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From Mad Cow Disease to Agrochemicals: Time to Put Public Need Ahead of Private Greed

Colin Todhunter
The first part of this article documenting the development of BSE in Britain was written by Rosemary Mason and is taken from her new report ‘Why didn’t the UK media report the documentary on Mad Cow Disease?’ It is fully referenced and cites sources and evidence in support of her claims. Additional reporting for the second part of the article was provided by Colin Todhunter.

Mad cow disease is a fatal epidemic neurological syndrome created by the agricultural industry, farmers and food processors.

In 1987, an epidemic of a fatal neurological disease in cows suddenly appeared in Britain. Cows became uncoordinated, staggered around, collapsed and finally died. The disease was called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) because there were holes in the brain where prion protein cells became folded, had linked up and then split to cover the surface of the brain. There were more than 1,300 cases of BSE spread over 6,000 farms.

For at least 40 years, infected slaughterhouse carcasses had been rendered down and recycled into animal feed. Not wanting to waste anything, pressure cooking of the spinal cord and brain produced a sludge known as ‘mechanically-recovered meat’. The regulators allowed it to go into meat products. This processed meat and bone meal was turned into a coarse powder and was fed back to cows. Cows are herbivores and this way they were turned into cannibals.

By 1990, BSE had spread into 14 other species, including cats. Politicians, the food industry, media, the government, farmers and vets said BSE couldn’t jump species to affect humans and it was safe to eat beef. Advertisements were taken out in newspapers and politicians were shown eating steak tartare in the Houses of Parliament to boost the sales of beef. At an agricultural show, the Agriculture Minister John Gummer was seen offering a beef burger to his daughter.

In 1995, the first human under 40 contracted what became known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (new vCJD, related to BSE and belonging to the same family of diseases). By March 1996, there were five cases and the government was forced to alter its advice. Kevin Maguire, a journalist, was lunching with someone in Westminster who said that scientists had discovered that ‘mad cow disease’ could jump species and had been found in humans.

Maguire said that it was a scandal in an effort to get every penny out of a carcass. His newspaper, ‘The  Mirror’, was the first to break the news to the public, saying that humans could catch mad cow disease from eating infected beef and that the government was about to do a U-turn by finally accepting that the brain wasting disease may have been passed to people. This U-turn by ministers – who for 10 years had insisted it was impossible – was a devastating indictment of the British government and probably one of the worst examples of government since the war.

During 1996, 10 more cases of new vCJD in people under 40 were diagnosed. All died within 13 months and there was no cure. In 2005, the authorities thought the disease was over, but in 2009, a case was discovered in a 30-year-old man. Another case appeared four years later. Today, people are living with uncertainty, not knowing if they are incubating new vCJD.

The parents of children who had died from new vCJD said “We trusted government advice.” Each Christmas one mother had sent an e-mail to those she thought responsible with a photograph of her daughter and said your actions have deprived me of my daughter. Another parent from Scotland who had lost his 30-year-old son to the disease had tattooed on his arm the name of his son followed by: ‘murdered by greed and corruption’.

In the documentary Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal, first broadcast on BBC 2 on 11 July 2019, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, said:

New Variant CJD is not a natural disease. It is an epidemic we have created. If the agricultural industry hadn’t decided to feed cattle with meat and bone meal, if the food processors hadn’t decided to scrape every last bit of flesh off the carcass, and if MAFF [govt ministry] hadn’t prioritised farming over food safety, all of the people who died would still be alive. This is the tragedy.”

The following is taken from a publication compiled by the European Environment Agency, Late lessons from early warnings (Patrick van Zwanenberg and Erik Millstone):

Many of the UK policy makers who were directly responsible for taking policy decisions on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prior to March 1996 claim that, at the time, their approach exemplified the application of an ultra-precautionary approach and of rigorous science-based policy-making. We argue that these claims are not convincing because government policies were not genuinely precautionary and did not properly take into account the implications of the available scientific evidence.

…It is, however, essential to appreciate that UK public policy making was handicapped by a fundamental tension. The department responsible for dealing with BSE has been the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and it was expected simultaneously to promote the economic interests of farmers and the food industry whilst also protecting public health from food-borne hazards. The evidence cited here suggests that because MAFF was expected simultaneously to meet two contradictory objectives it failed to meet either.”

The UK introduced legislation banning the use of contaminated ruminant protein for use in ruminant feed in 1988. By then, a million cows had entered the food chain. At the height of the scandal, British beef had lost around 60% of sales. Prior to the ban, microbiologist Stephen Dealler challenged the government’s claim over safety and was moved from his research lab.

However, Britain continued to export meat and bone meal to Europe. The European Commission asked the UK to introduce an export ban on feedstuffs, but the UK refused to do so. It was not until 1996 that the EC banned these exports.

From mad cows to GMOs and pesticides

Where glyphosate (and other agrochemicals) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are concerned, we again see commercial interests being prioritised and the public interest sidelined. Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup was originally sprayed on crops in 1980 and on grazing land in 1985 (recommended by Monsanto scientists). GMOs entered the commercial market in the US in the 1990s. As shown in the report mentioned in the introduction to this article, the authorities did not heed the advice of key scientists and went ahead regardless.

Readers are urged to consult the report as it documents the duplicity that underpins the agrochemical/GMO agritech sector and describes how science and regulatory processes have been corrupted. In Britain, the government is saying that GM crops and Roundup are safe and intends to introduce these crops after Brexit.

Of course, heavily compromised industry-funded scientists and other lobbyists say the science is decided on GM and that glyphosate is safe. They say anyone who rejects this is anti-science and doesn’t care about world hunger because we can only feed the world by rolling out more GM crops and more agrochemicals. But this is little more than propaganda and emotional blackmail, part of an industry strategy designed to tug at the heartstrings of public opinion and sway the policy agenda.

We need to turn to author Andre Leu who has outlined major deficiencies in pesticide safety protocols. He offers a more realistic appraisal:

… it is a gross misrepresentation to say that any of the current published toxicology studies can be used to say that any of the thousands of pesticide products used in the world do not cause cancer or other diseases… there is no evidence that pesticides are safe.”

Washington State University researchers recently found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities. The study’s authors say:

The ability of glyphosate and other environmental toxicants to impact our future generations needs to be considered and is potentially as important as the direct exposure toxicology done today for risk assessment.”

And where GMOs are concerned, they are little more than a flawed technological panacea that ignores the structural causes of malnutrition and hunger.

An increasing number of prominent reports and voices are now arguing that we do not need toxic chemicals to feed the world and that if we maintain our economic and agricultural course we are headed for disaster. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva recently called for healthier and more sustainable food systems and said agroecology can contribute to such a transformation.

Moreover, the new report from the UN  High Level Panel of Food Experts on Food Security and Nutrition – Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition – argues that food systems are at a crossroads and profound transformation is needed. Many high-profile reports and figures have been saying similar things for years.

It is therefore disconcerting that the British government seems oblivious to the need of the hour and remains intent on pursuing an obsolete neoliberal, water-polluting, soil degrading, health destroying, unsustainable model of food and agriculture at the behest of corporate interests.

Mad cow disease did not just suddenly appear from nowhere. It was created by humans, particularly the farming industry and food processors. The British government kept on maintaining that eating beef was perfectly safe. A scientist who spoke out was silenced. The interests of the beef industry were paramount.

Evidence suggests there could soon be a second wave of cases affecting humans. It will be among people with a genetic predisposition towards longer incubation periods than the first patients had. This genetic predisposition is shared by half the British population. Some 177 people (as of June 2014) have contracted and died of vCJD.

That number is dwarfed when it comes to the spiralling rates of disease and illness that we now see among the British population. This too hasn’t happened for no reason. We see clear trends between the rising use of agrochemicals (especially glyphosate) and rising rates of morbidity, while much of the media and policy makers remain silent on this connection.

From the ‘great British beef scandal’ of the 1980s to ongoing pesticide issue, the profit motives of rich corporations continue to trump the public interest.

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Neo
Neo
Jul 20, 2019 1:28 AM

“Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup was originally sprayed on crops in 1980 and on grazing land in 1985″

Originally, one can say, 20 million gallons of Roundup close cousin ‘Agent Orange’ was dumped/sprayed over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1971.

Roundup close cousin ‘Agent Orange’ was designed –in addition to spreading democracy– to cause permanent damage and destruction to the natural world. [how nice!].

Neo
Neo
Jul 20, 2019 2:14 AM
Reply to  Neo

Oh gosh, I just came across this, look what these companies, like Monsanto and Dow Chemical, do for profit (and spreading democracy): – Americans went to Vietnam to douse roads, rivers, canals, rice paddies and farmland with powerful mixtures of herbicides. During this process, crops and water sources used by the non-combatant native population of South Vietnam were also hit – Americans caused massive environmental [said to be permanent] devastation of the U.S. defoliation program in Vietnam – Some 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of exposure to American herbicides like Agent Orange – Half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illness caused by Monsanto Agent Orange <a href=""Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup was originally sprayed on crops in 1980 and on grazing land in 1985″ Originally, one can say, 20 million gallons… Read more »

Guy
Guy
Jul 22, 2019 8:23 PM
Reply to  Neo

Also lets not forget the depleted uranium used in bombing Iraq , said to last hundreds of thousands of years before complete neutralization.Birth defects in Iraq is said to be through the roof.But Madeline Albright says it was all worth it.

mark
mark
Jul 19, 2019 7:19 PM

It wasn’t just ground up animal carcases that were fed to herbivores like cows.
The poor critters were actually made to eat their own excrement.
Bon appetit.
Then people were surprised this caused disease problems.
Whether this sort of thing is still going on is anybody’s guess.

wardropper
wardropper
Jul 19, 2019 5:46 PM

They know their own: The lobbyists for the avaricious, sprawling wickedness which we call “business” today know the government ministers who can be bribed; the government ministers know which businesses are willing to support their Establishment agenda; both the government ministers and the CEOs have offspring whom they wish to succeed them when they retire; the MSM journalists know where to turn to receive acknowledgement and awards for service to the above; official scrutiny, like that of Hans Blix, who found no WMD in Iraq before Chush and Beney decided to go there and murder people anyway, is also subject to all of the above; shareholders know that they can continute to demand their regular dividends even if they invested in the certainty that the Earth is flat, and they know which brokers will let them get away with it and even encourage them. Therefore, nobody who is not closely… Read more »

Gary
Gary
Jul 19, 2019 4:01 PM

The obvious ‘elephant in the living room’ is that we all reside in a neoliberal capitalist paradise that has literally enshrined the very worst human traits imaginable, those of the psychopath, literally as the basis of our freaking societal – ‘value-system.’ “Greed is good?” Really? Sane regulation of industry is literally impossible within our current insane myth system. The very notion of such is simply “white noise” relegated to the background. The underlying mythology of our current insane economic model posits the notion that individual personal greed somehow miraculously “serves us all” no matter how obviously destructive, and that the mysterious “invisible hand” of the Market” is “raising all boats” even while it quite obviously keeps piling obscene amounts of money into the rather large yachts of of the world’s billionaires, and meanwhile the literal “habitability of planet earth” is considered simply an “externality” and therefore is of no concern… Read more »

BigB
BigB
Jul 19, 2019 8:27 PM
Reply to  Gary

It is not a “mythology” Gary, it is a logic. A logic inherent in the language. If we can discern the difference, we are already free of the systemic ‘mytho-logic’. It is beyond the realm of comment: but language is not neutral. Instead of the neutral representation of truth-values that are compatible with the real world …language has become a socio-political construct of power over. Language has become an ontology of identity (Being) and hierarchy (Being has dominion over being). Skipping a 5,000 word thesis: Being – individuation, individuality, identity – is only one possible logic function of language. One that has been inculcated as the ‘only’ for the purposes of power over. Language is a politically and socio-culturally constructed hierarchy of power. The individuated identity is the basis of the economism, scientism, and psychologism of the Enlightenment. One that is an entirely false socio-political construct. So long as we… Read more »

Gary
Gary
Jul 20, 2019 2:26 PM
Reply to  BigB

Or, to paraphrase the great Native American AIM activist and artist John Trudell, “we are all made from the metals, minerals, liquids that make up mother earth,” we literally “are” another form of mother earth, we are all connected, and everything is connected.” 🙂

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Jul 19, 2019 2:24 PM

Just like the priests of religion, the priests of science are dogmatic, deranged and dangerous,

wardropper
wardropper
Jul 19, 2019 6:10 PM
Reply to  Fair dinkum

Very true.
A related factor is that the actual truth behind which both groups build their power careers remains hidden.

Question This
Question This
Jul 20, 2019 6:35 PM
Reply to  Fair dinkum

It’s vitally important to distinguish the difference between ‘pure’ (biology, chemistry & physics) science & neo-liberal applied science.

The first provides us truth, the second a tool to advance humanities interests. The latter increasingly being hijacked & corrupted by the reigning neo-liberal regime who use it to advance their ideologies, often with no actual science involved whatsoever.

DunGroanin
DunGroanin
Jul 19, 2019 12:43 PM

Addiction. From the commercialised poisons Sugar, Pain killers, Alcohol, Nicotine, Gambling, … to personal Gluttony, Exercise, Sex, Violence… to cultural Shopping, Entertainment, Wealth…Religion. All have a commonality of human physiological response – a feeling of ‘happiness’ or something like that. We don’t know everything, we know more as time passes. Decades and Centuries pass as the certitudes of the day are replaced by discovery. It has always been so. But we are hamstrung by our dextrousness, being smarter than our understanding. We take the discoveries and turn them into harm inducing tools, weapons, machines, bad foods, poisons – destroying species – Dodo’s, Whales, Wildlife, Habitat … as if the planet belongs to no other life than humans, and no other humans than the strongest. A self destructive belief in a hierarchy of life. We are barely realising how it really is a ‘small world’, a planet unlike any other nearby.… Read more »

Henry Wilson
Henry Wilson
Jul 19, 2019 12:31 PM

The farmers were not to blame for B S E it was the government & animal compound food manufacturers who were including meat & bone meal & even recycled protein extracted from poultry manure this rubbish was used especially in rations for younger animals Both my brother & me are dairy farmers my brother never feed any of these rations & never had a case i used them regularly & had several cases which were very distressing The government & the veterinary profession had been operating an testing & slaughter programme for a long number of years & cases were in rapid decline when the Major government & Gummer panicked resulting in a collapse of the beef market & the removal of all cattle from the food chain over 36 months Most farmers believed it was flawed science in the first place that allowed the rendering of carcasses at a… Read more »

in it together
in it together
Jul 19, 2019 10:44 AM

“Another parent from Scotland who had lost his 30-year-old son to the disease had tattooed on his arm the name of his son followed by: ‘murdered by greed and corruption’.”

The mistake here is not that the 30 y.o son was murdered. The mistake is he was murdered quickly (within a year or so).

The rule of growth disruptive chemicals dictates that people die [get murdered] slowly after spending enormous amounts of money on health care including expenses to manage side effects of medications. Dying withing a year or so wouldn’t be the standard target. But that could have been done for testing purposes; how to achieve quicker results.

binra
binra
Jul 19, 2019 9:53 AM

Science has made a monumental blunder. Mad cow disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE is not an infection spread by a pathogen, that is, a virus or a bacteria. It is a naturally occurring degenerative disease a disease of old age that is accelerated by toxic poisoning. It all began with the sheep disease scrapie, which has similar symptoms to mad cow disease. Sheep staggered around and appeared to go crazy. But it was found that scrapie was not transmitted to other animals, and it was not thought to pose any threat to humans. The most likely cause of scrapie was massive chemical poisoning. Sheep are regularly dipped in chemical baths to kill off parasites. Their heads are invariably thrust under the surface and they often swallow some of the toxic dip. For decades, sheep meat has been used to make cattle feed, with no ill effect. Problems only began… Read more »

lundiel
lundiel
Jul 19, 2019 9:17 AM

We see clear trends between the rising use of agrochemicals (especially glyphosate) and rising rates of morbidity, while much of the media and policy makers remain silent on this connection.

The general public is very aware that more people are getting cancer, it used to be 1 in 4, now it’s 1 in 2.
We’re either more genetically at risk or it’s environmental. Only scientists can tell us what is causing the rise.
We need the hard evidence now. We all know the Tories will want to help their farmer friends as much as possible when they lose their subsidies for doing nothing post Brexit.
People are very worried about cancer risks, they could cause any government to change policy if they were given clear unambiguous evidence that our food is killing us.

Neo
Neo
Jul 19, 2019 10:54 AM
Reply to  lundiel

“Only scientists can tell us what is causing the rise.”

[Neo-]Scientists are now being programmed to tell you: “It is your fault that you got a terminal disease; look, your neighbour is fine and most people are OK .. So, it’s your gene. Bad Luck!”

These are the new It’s-Your-Genes Scientists!

Bought Journalism is fait-accompli (any doubt??!) … Now welcome ‘Bought Scientists’!

Robbobbobin
Robbobbobin
Jul 20, 2019 10:41 AM
Reply to  lundiel

“We’re either more genetically at risk or it’s environmental.”

Binary hell.
No, sorry, I’ll read that again.
“Hell! Binary!”

UreKismet
UreKismet
Jul 19, 2019 6:13 AM

Ever since I learned of the kuru disease in a biology 101 class at Kent Uni a coupla lifetimes ago, I have believed that mammals evolved an inbuilt mechanism to prevent cannibalism. One that causes consumption of the prions of an animal’s own species to become corrupted, eventually resulting in death. I have absolutely no evidence to support that theory other than the circumstantial evidence that Kuru was transmitted when clan members ate part of the brains of a family member during their funeral rites (and not as we were taught in the good old days of whitefella exceptionalism ,from ‘head hunting’). As we read in the excellent article above above, vCJD/BSE is also ‘transmitted’ by cattle eating parts of the nervous system of their own species. That thanks to modern agriculture’s quite delightful decision to not just turn herbivores into carnivores but to also make them unwitting cannibals. Transmitted… Read more »

Neil
Neil
Jul 19, 2019 4:46 AM

Oe of the biggest false statements made today is there is not enough food to feed the population and the only way to do it is to allow agriculture to be even more industrial than it is now. The problem of food supply is distribution to where it is needed at a reasonable price. Everywhere in the West we see fully a 3rd of what is produced thrown at landfills yet other areas of the planet struggle. Never let it be said the desire for profit got in the way of a healthy humankind – LOL.

binra
binra
Jul 19, 2019 10:36 AM
Reply to  Neil

The lack-based drive for ‘power’ of possession and control operates and embodies the scarcity principle as its raison d’être. Thus the weaponising and marketising of Everything – including of course the framing of the thought by which we give and receive meaning. The idea of ‘rogue thought’ – as a power in and of itself able to take over, or separate from its Nature and usurp its own Mind, is the idea of levels or compartments of Mind – such that conflicted thought can be ‘played or acted out’ or indeed rendered ‘unconscious’ to a surface ‘level’ of attention. The idea of Wholeness in all its Parts – or the One in the Many and the Many in One – is not recognisable to our physical framework or ‘level’ of consciousness, while that is active as a filter and distortion of limitation and lack. Everything has all the meaning we… Read more »

BigB
BigB
Jul 19, 2019 10:48 AM
Reply to  Neil

Another key point is that we are told that organic, agroecological, and permaculture food production has a significantly lower yield than ‘Green Revolutionary’ industrialised food production …based on the consumption of oil. And so we sit at the end of needlessly long global value chains of ‘just-in-time’ food production and distribution. Which is fine, all the time the Israelu avocados and Kenyan strawberries turn up in time for Christmas. But we are approaching the day when they won’t. No one knows when that day will be. And no one has prepared. This has nothing to do with the intentional and induced crisis known as ‘Brexit’. I have long advocated for food (and energy) sovereignty and justice in distribution. And if it is true that organic yields are 20-25% lower (the persistent propagandic claim; which is by no means certainly true) …and we need more land – then we will just… Read more »

Robbobbobin
Robbobbobin
Jul 20, 2019 10:55 AM
Reply to  BigB

“Capitalism is dead: though it may carry on chainstoking for decades …”

Cheyne-Stoking.

Robbobbobin
Robbobbobin
Jul 20, 2019 11:11 AM
Reply to  Robbobbobin

More exactly, Cheyne-Stokeing.
Most exactly, Cheyne-Stokesing.
Two 19th (?) century physicians, Drs Cheyne and Stokes.

Jen
Jen
Jul 19, 2019 1:53 AM

“… At an agricultural show [in 1990], the Agriculture Minister John Gummer was seen offering a beef burger to his daughter …”

In 2007, the 23-year-old daughter of Roger Smith, a friend of the former UK Agriculture Minister John Gummer, died from variant CJD.

The odd thing was that Elizabeth Smith rarely ate burgers as a child, due in part to growing up in a rural area. That is not to say that UK-raised beef in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t affect her health in some way: she may have eaten other products that contained processed meat and offal which were tainted with the prions that cause the condition, or possibly (though a very long shot) even vegetables grown in soil fertilised with tainted bone meal.

See also this article “Grass plants bind, retain, uptake and transport infectious prions”.

maggywacky19
maggywacky19
Jul 19, 2019 11:05 AM
Reply to  Jen

Meanwhile Brazil Agriculture Minister, Thereza Christina has proved hundreds of agrotoxics and is opening the amazon forest to mines, cutting of tress and other activities which has destroyed 20 footbal fields of the rain florest.
And the environmentalists pushing for climate change ignores this disaster.