Tuesday, March 18, 2008

At long last

I've been busy again, lately, and haven't really had a chance to weigh in on the humane slaughter issue. Instead of breaking news, then, here's some afterthoughts:

I was not amused by this article. This is fear-mongering, fueled by the fact that most people don't know their burgers are coming from dairy cows (I've never met a layperson who knew that; they're always a bit shocked). The understanding of epidemiology here is particularly egregious:

Dairy cows can also carry some common maladies, including mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder; foot rot, which they can develop standing for long periods in manure, mud and damp straw; and Johne’s disease.

Scientists believe these diseases are not carried into the human food chain, with one exception: Health and animal scientists are currently debating whether the traits of Johne’s are responsible for Chron’s disease in humans. Chron’s disease is an intestinal disorder that can cause inflammation of the colon, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss. Some argue it’s these very problems that prompt farmers to dispatch the cows to the slaughterhouse in the first place.

One: why mention all these "terrible" diseases if they aren't entering the food chain? Two: hate to say it, but milk is a bigger risk than beef for MAP transmission (MAP is the cause of Johne's disease, and is under debate as a contributing factor in Crohn's disease), so I'd rather have them at the slaughterhouse, where the risk of contamination is minimal, than in the milking parlor.

Lesson: don't get your information about your food from the editorial page!

I was very amused by this article. USDA inspectors may not have been doing their job, but that's really no excuse for the Humane Society avoiding their legal responsibility . . . and why were they contacting local DA, then releasing the video on YouTube with national promotion? Sounds like they wanted to appear to do the legal thing while making the biggest publicity. Shame on HSUS!
Humane Society grilled on not advising USDA about Hallmark
By Janie Gabbett on 2/26/2008 for Meatingplace.com
WASHINGTON — Congressmen repeatedly questioned a representative of the Humane Society of the United States on Tuesday about why the group did not immediately inform USDA of video evidence workers were abusing downed cattle at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co.

At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on food safety, Michael Greger, HSUS director of public health and animal agriculture, said the San Bernardino District Attorney's office asked the group to hold the information until it completed its own investigation. The congressmen, however, said HSUS could have discretely gone to USDA earlier than it did.

Greger hinted at more HSUS exposes, telling the committee the videographer's identity must be guarded so as not to compromise current and future investigations. The Hallmark/Westland video, which was shown at the hearing, resulted in the nation's largest beef recall. (See Hallmark/Westland recalls 143 million lbs of beef — largest in history on Meatingplace.com, Feb. 18, 2008.)

Hallmark/Westland President Steve Mendell did not attend the hearing, declining the committee's request for him to testify. Committee members said they are looking at compelling him to come before the committee sometime in the future.

Greger told the committee that Hallmark workers said in criminal testimony in California that they were pressured by supervisors to get the cows up and into slaughter. Hallmark slaughtered mostly spent dairy cattle, often fatigued after being trucked in from surrounding states.

Members of the subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), used the hearing as an opportunity to renew calls for: banning all meat from downer cattle from the food supply, mandatory traceability standards, mandatory recall authority for USDA and the Food and Drug Administration and the creation of a single food safety agency.

William Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents victims of foodborne illnesses, however, suggested USDA might have actually gone too far with the Hallmark recall.

"Although stunned by the video …I am more stunned that the recall has ballooned to 143 million pounds of meat and is quickly encompassing products that might contain trace amounts of the meat. No people have been sickened. I wonder if resources are better spent elsewhere," he testified before the committee.


David said...

In fact beef consumption was found to be the highest risk factor among foods for developing crohn's, found a study in Japan. Beef is potentially the greatest source of transmission of MAP to humans!

And a really good slideshow presentation by Dr. Collins at the University of Wisconsin is here: http://johnes.org/presentations.shtml There are a couple good ones, but the one to watch is called 'The Emerging Paratuberculosis Epidemic and Its Implications for Food'. "Make BSE look like a joke"

Also, some good videos with Dr. Hermon-Taylor are: http://www.aeii.org/DrTaylor/videos/MAPpresentation.htm and http://www.aeii.org/DrTaylor/videos/MAPpr.htm One is a presentation and the other is an interview. Both really worth watching.

Dr. Hermon-Taylor is going to be on BBC Wales Tuesday March 25, talking about MAP and Crohn's. Check it out on their website afterwards.

Becky said...

I think you're conflating risk factor fro Crohn's with source of transmission of MAP. My point is that MAP is present in 1) feces and 2) milk. Beef can be contaminated by feces, certainly, but if that happens you should be more worried about Salmonella and E. coli. I think the greater risk of MAP transmission is really from milk.

It is possible for beef consumption to be a high risk factor for Crohn's without MAP being involved, as MAP has not been found in all cases of Crohn's and may not even be the cause when it is found. It is also possible for a risk factor to be present without being causative.

I should mention: I'm currently working in MAP modeling, so this issue is close to my heart.

David said...

Awesome that you are studying MAP! Need more people studying it!

A lot of credible veterinarians I have spoken with feel that beef may be the biggest source...who knows though eh...

I understand that association doesn't mean causation, but it has been found in a large number of patients with Crohn's (Lancet '07 meta-analysis, odds ratio 7:1, greater than any genetic association) and those numbers may be even higher but for some factors such as current conventional therapies for crohn's have activity against MAP (Greenstein), sometimes only small blood samples are drawn (Naser), only small biopsies are sometimes taken at the epithelial layer but when taken from whole resected tissue MAP is found more often, MAP in humans is paucibacillary, so may be missed under microscope tisues (Behr), and human error in PCR testing could significantly impact results.

I really hope you'll check out Dr. Collins' site www.johnes.org if you haven't already and check out Dr. Hermon-Taylor's videos. In his presentation he provides evidence from studies conducted in England, showing that MAP may be aerosoling and infecting people that way.