15 May 2012
More and more countries are banning imports of American food products for safety reasons.
Last week, Indonesia became the first country to halt imports of US beef following the discovery of an American dairy cow infected with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The disease is fatal to cows and can cause a deadly brain disease in people who eat tainted beef.
“We will lift the ban as soon as the US can assure us its dairy cows are free of mad cow disease,” said Rusman Heriawan, Indonesia’s vice agriculture minister. “It could be one month or one year. It depends on how long it takes to resolve this case.”
One would think the US government would immediately test beef to make sure it’s safe. But the USDA, which regulates the test, administers it to less than 1% of slaughtered cows. Worse, until 2007 it was illegal for private beef producers to test their own cows for the disease! Larger meat companies feared that if smaller producers tested their meat and advertised it as safe from mad cow disease, they too might be forced to test all their cows—so they persuaded USDA to block individual producers from doing the test. In 2007 a federal judge said this practice could no longer stand.
The highest risk occurs if animals or humans eat infected brain or nerve tissue. Meat unconnected to bone, milk, and hooves are supposed to be safe, but who knows for sure? The ultimate source of mad cow, of course, is the filthy and disease-ridden (not to mention inhumane) conditions in CAFOs, or concentrated animal feedlot operations.
In February, Taiwan began refusing meat products from the US because they contain ractopamine, a leanness- and growth-promoting drug used widely in pork and beef production in the United States. Taiwan has a zero-tolerance policy for the drug.