All Those Mad Cows and You

All Those Mad Cows and You

By Brander C. Kitchin, M.D.

The cattle of England are mad before they die. It seems likely that the British dairy and beef industry may be destroyed in the near future and the British people themselves over the next few decades. And there is reason to believe that the trail of death will not end at this little isle of historic beef-eaters.

Its all about a disease called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) which has existed for centuries confined to sheep as a fatal malady called scrapie. Only recently has it become a scourge throughout the mammalian kingdom including man. It turns the brain into a sponge like mass by filling it full of holes. The result is gradual deterioration of brain function leading inevitably to death over a period of months to a few years.

There is no treatment nor is there likely to be.

In England, mad cow disease as it was dubbed first raised the red flag of alarm when it was found that some young persons were dying of a disease that clinically and pathologically resembled a speeded up form of an extremely rare disease of the elderly called Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD).

CJD of the elderly had been considered most likely to be a genetically-based condition and not due to an infectious agent. It still is and may simply represent a symptom complex based on spongiform degeneration of the brain that can have more than a single cause.

It was through his interest in the rare Creutzfeld-Jacob disease of the elderly that Stanley Prusiner working at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco during the 1970's discovered a new life form. It is a strange sort of thing being neither bacterium nor virus. It is no more than a molecule of protein and is devoid of genetic material. Dr. Prusiner named it a prion for proteinacious infectious particle. His idea that such a molecule so simple and without genetic material when compared even to a virus could actually cause disease brought him worldwide ridicule at first and, finally, the Nobel Prize for Medicine with its million dollar reward. His thing, his quasi-creature, is real and deadly.

Proteins are the building blocks of life. They are huge molecules made up of even thousands of atoms. The identical atomic constituents of such a molecule can exist in different configurations with different biological properties for each change in shape. Prions are like that. A molecule of identical atomic makeup to the prion exists normally in mammals but in a harmless shape or configuration. Prions, the infectious and pathological version or shape of the same atomic makeup is believed to have the ability, by means unknown, to change the shape of the normally present molecule into its own malevolent image.

This is a comparatively slow process. The incubation period--the time between infection by ingesting, one way or another, the prion and the appearance of symptoms-- may be three to five years in cattle and ten years, more or less, in humans. The effect is probably cumulative. In other words, a large dose of prions would be likely to cause disease and death in short order while repeated small doses ingested with infected food would more gradually accumulate postponing the inevitable end.

The end is inevitable because there is no treatment. Apparently the body's immune system does not recognize as an enemy the same protein reshaped from a benign to a malignant form. The body can rally no natural defense. And the prion molecule itself is extremely resistant to destruction. Antibiotics, of course, could have no effect because this thing is not really alive--at least as we think we know what life is. The heat of normal cooking temperatures do not affect it. While meat well- done throughout is safe from bacterial contamination, this does not render it safe from the standpoint of prions. Even formaldehyde does not destroy it.

So--how did this thing which apparently has existed for hundreds of years confined comparatively innocuously to sheep wait until the 1980's to branch out to infect cattle and then other mammals? It is through the process of rendering by which the inedible remains of slaughtered animals, including dead pets and road-kills, are ground up and cooked into a horrible unidentifiable mess that is fed to all food animals including beef and dairy cows as a protein supplement in order to increase the quantities of beef and milk.

Man has turned a benign ruminant into a cannibal. And there are many products of this mess of the unpalatable remains of dead things. Much of it goes into pet food. Gelatin, for instance, which goes into the capsules that make medicines convenient to take is a product of this mess. Interestingly, on April 24, 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration quietly removed animal gelatin from its list of GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) products. This action was necessary, they say, because there was no assurance that gelatin was not contaminated by prions since there is no chemical test for their presence. Somehow, this rather significant action did not reach the controlled mass media.

So, it is thought, the sheep prions got to the cattle from feeding them these protein supplements. The trouble is, this process of rendering has been going on a long time. Why, all of a sudden, did these previously innocuous sheep prions become agents of widespread disease? This remains a valid question.

In an effort to confine the disease, Britain undertook a massive program which included rejection of a process of rendering they had recently adopted from the United States method and the killing of thousands upon thousands of cattle. These cattle cannot be buried because of the likelihood of contamination of the soil and water table. They must be burned. Facilities for burning are overburdened, so corpses are piling up.

But, despite an embargo on the export of British beef, prion disease has popped up on the continent and elsewhere. Why should that be a surprise? After all, the practice of feeding the product of rendering called offal to food animals has been worldwide for a long time. One public health official has actually predicted a world-wide epidemic with hundreds of thousands afflicted and dead. Worse than AIDS, some think.

And this should not be a surprise either. Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) has been found in all animals that make up the domestic meat supply including chickens and even free-living salmon released from government hatcheries where they had been fed the products of offal as hatchlings. Even mink raised for their coats and wild-living elk and mule deer in Montana and Wyoming have been found to carry the disease. And since intrauterine transmission of the prion from a cow to her calf occurs, why not from the chicken to her egg?

Such widespread dissemination of the prion disease should have been expected--if, indeed, it was not. The problem of the disposal of thousands of tons of offal, not even fit for hamburger, from slaughtered animals is profitably solved by providing a cheap nutritional supplement that, at the same time, increases the profit of the meat industry. This practice promotes faster growth and larger animals to be consumed by the poor boobs who know no better because they were not given the opportunity to learn.

The disease found its way into the wild game animal population in Montana and Wyoming by feeding offal ostensibly to get them through a hard winter. Whether from governmental concern for their well-being or not, the net result of this unfortunate practice inevitably will spread the disease throughout the animal kingdom. That, like it or not, includes us! There is even concern that the use of offal- or sewage-derived fertilizers may result in the transmission of the prion molecule to food crops.

But even so, we in the good old United States of America are blessed. The controlled media continue to assure us that U.S. cattle are free of the disease. Although cattle feed, particularly of dairy cattle in order to enable the prodigious milk production per milk cow demanded by the industry in order to enhance profits, has been supplemented with the packaged remains of their parents, brothers, sisters and others less closely related for decades, we are not to worry.

U.S. cattle just do not have mad cow disease, we are assured. The reason is simple. In the U.S., it is called downer cow syndrome instead! An estimated 300,000 to one million U.S. cattle die yearly of downer cow syndrome. They die of an encephalopathy which appears to be a variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. It is here, it is dangerous--and it is being covered up! That it is a privately recognized hazard in this country would seem to be proved by the action of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in admitting that gelatin could no longer be considered safe for human consumption.

Why should such behavior be no surprise? Our government has shown itself to be so corrupt that it cannot speak the truth about anything. Many of us have learned to decipher federal pronouncements by reversing the meaning of anything they tell us. Only in this way can we find the truth! When we were told that there was no such thing as the Gulf War Syndrome, we knew there was. When we were told that the virus that causes AIDS was concocted by green monkeys in Africa, we knew it probably had been man-made.

And now we have a brand new role for an old, old disease of sheep. The causative agent finally is discovered by research so brilliant that it is rewarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine! It is a heretofore unknown life-form so strange that its acceptance by medical science as a real thing took many years. The next we know, all of a sudden there is a brand new disease to fit this old, old life- form which somehow changed its spots and became a widely-capable fatal pathogen. One cannot help but wonder just a little. Could this be the story of AIDS and the apparently infectious element of Gulf War Syndrome all over again? And could this strange little non-creature be responsible for the near-epidemic of Alzheimer's Disease over the past decade or more? That question has been raised by Dr. Prusiner himself. Spongiform changes have been found in the brains of the victims of this disease also.

While the media continue to say as little as possible about TSE and then only to reassure the boobs of their safety, a trip to the corner grocery raises a twinge of doubt. Perhaps everyone is not as sanguine about the freedom from pathogenic prions in U.S. meat products as we are told to be.

The labels of all fruit, cereal and vegetable baby food products of a well-known purveyor bear the familiar kosher mark. This means that it is perfectly safe for Jewish people to feed this properly blessed and taxed stuff to their babies. They can even eat it themselves with safety. But none of the meat-containing products of this manufacturer bear the kosher sign. This says, clearly, if you are a good Jewish person, do not feed this stuff to your baby.

Does this mean simply that the sources of meat in baby foods cannot be traced and that the rabbi cannot guarantee that all have been properly blessed at slaughter or do they know something that we do not? But then, perhaps Nature herself is trying to tell us something. After all, science has proved that we are not obligate carnivores.

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