eSince the December 23 announcement that bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE) was traced to a cow in Washington state that has entered the U.S.
meat supply, news sources have focused almost invariably on one question:
How will this affect meat sales?
spaceAn alarm has been sounded--but for
whom and for what? The answer stinks like rotten meat, but few seem
to be catching a whiff. The disgraceful truth is that health concerns
are choked off by fear about what you will continue to buy. More repugnant
still is how openly this has been stated, and how few seem to notice
or care. It's far from the first time profits were placed over people,
and surely won't be the last. But has it always been this brazen?
spaceTry a search on any news website.
A search on Google December 29, using "mad cow disease," listed
these top four headlines (with dozens of similar ones following):
-Mad cow disease report shakes beef industry, restaurant chains
-McDonald's, Others Steady Despite Mad Cow
-Wendy's sales strong despite mad cow case
-Mad cow disease likely to be costly to US beef industry
spaceThe issue, it appears, is whether
meat will be as profitable tomorrow as it was yesterday. Beyond that,
there is a conspicuous lack of probing into more fundamental questions.
I've not heard one interviewee take the opening "Is meat safe to
eat?" by answering, "Actually, even before this incident,
meat was unsafe to eat, for many reasons other than BSE. Not only because
of the foodborne illnesses that sicken 38.6 million Americans annually
(and kill 2,700), but even more so because of the 1.5 million deaths
from heart disease, cancer and stroke every year." The role of
animal fats and meat in these conditions has been overwhelmingly established.
As Neal Barnard, M.D., President of the Physicians
Committee for Responsible Medicine, has declared, "The beef
industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of
this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined."
spaceThe environmental impact of meat production
is equally deadly. The world's 1.3 billion head of cattle emit about
190 trillion quarts of methane gas annually--the second-most significant
contributor to the greenhouse effect (after carbon dioxide). Livestock
raised for food produce 87,000 pounds of excrement per second, polluting
American waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
More than a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in
the U.S. are used in animal food production. And making a pound of meat
demands 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of water. (By contrast, a pound of wheat
or potatoes can be grown with 25 gallons of water).
spaceWhile our nation wrings its hands
over starving children, every pound of beef it consumes diverts 16 pounds
of grain to cattle feed. This colossal waste of resources is offensive
in a world plagued by hunger and
malnutrition. Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that reducing
U.S. meat production by just 10 percent would free enough grain to feed
60 million people. But none of this, apparently, is as newsworthy as
whether McDonald's has seen a dip in sales since December 23. (The answer,
by the way, is no.) Moreover, in an endless dialogue about how best
to evade threats of BSE, a glaringly obvious and low-tech solution never
surfaces. Fact is, one surefire protection is to STOP EATING MEAT.
But the hot topic is sales, and such realism does not sell well. Nor
does it serve any interest of the industry which seems to have the floor
on this issue.
spaceUnfortunately, the media is acting
almost solely as a forum for debate about the impact of BSE on profits--instead
of the effects of meat production on human, animal and environmental
health. This is not helping one iota to raise consciousness from what
may well be America's most ghastly complacency. If this crisis inspires
no one to probe beyond the *financial* health of a rapacious industry,
we are afflicted with a sickness more malevolent than Creutzfeldt-Jakob
spaceListening to unabashed market analysis
that dwarfs matters of human health and animal suffering, and scrambling
by corporate interests and government officials to soothe a remarkably
unruffled consumer, I think not of "mad cows." (What a clever
naming convention, really--as if the *cows* are to
spaceI see a mad world, and I feel a lonely
sense of grief for its lack of humanity and common sense.