Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Local Cows are Sane

By now, you've likely read the story that the first new case of mad cow disease in the U.S. since 2006 was discovered in a California dairy cow.  I'm certain, you like me, felt safe and reassured in the subsequent news releases saying there was no threat to public safety, this cow's milk wasn't tainted and if it was people can't get sick from the milk, etc., etc. Maybe this is true, but I ask you, is it worth the risk?

Perhaps I have lost faith in the "patting on the head" public statements we often receive. "There, there dear. You don't need to worry your pretty little head about sick cows. Trust us, it will all be fine." Right now, the officials involved are trying to figure out how bad this might be and the meat and dairy associations are in full-blown crises mode working on strategies to prevent consumers from running away from all meat and dairy products. Yes, a consumer boycott would be devastating to their income and there are people and jobs involved here. And, yes, I don't want to consume any products that may have been exposed to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (aka "mad cow disease") which is thought to be the cause of a fatal brain disease in humans called Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

Here's the deal. This sick cow was randomly selected for testing. From CNN, "Luckey [VP at company who tested the cow] would not divulge on which farm the animal was found. He said his company tests 1,000 to 2,000 animals a year, which he described as "a small percentage" of the overall number of animals it renders."

Basically, we consumers got lucky they picked a sick cow. The dairy and meat industry drew the short straw this time. This cow was about to be rendered and could have ended up in many, many places including feed for chickens and other livestock spreading the disease further. On in the US does the Government sanction the practice of allowing dead animals to be ground up and turned into feed for other animals. Disgusting.

Please don't ask me to believe this is the ONLY SICK COW IN CALIFORNIA. There are thousands of cows in California and they don't each get a customized diet. Whatever this cow ate that made it sick was also fed to dozens of other cows, at least.

Your best option? Eat local and know your farmer. My grandfather was a dairy farmer and he knew every single cow on his farm. If one of them started acting strangely, he would have quarantined it, called the vet and figured out what was going on well before it had the chance to produce tainted milk or sicken the other members of the herd. Small, local farmers treat their animals with care and respect. They are in tune with their animals much like we are with our kids or pets. Think I'm crazy? Go and visit a farm this weekend. When you talk to the farmer, ask him or her for the cows' names. I had two "pet" cows growing up and named the Cinnamon and Brownie. I was heartbroken when each passed.

In a giant industrial dairy farming operation cows are numbered, not named, they not allowed to roam the pasture and are instead fed a cocktail of drugs, chemicals and feed made from their dead cousins. A sick cow is something to be disposed of not something to be mourned.

You are your own best defense against mad cow. Talk to farmers. Know your food. Eat local. Now is the perfect time to start - farmer's markets are everywhere.

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