"Mad cow is the creepiest in a family of disorders that can make ebola look like chicken pox." —Newsweek, March 12, 2001
Richard Lacey, a pioneer mad cow researcher, predicts that, by the year 2015, two hundred thousand Britishers will die each year. —Richard Rhodes, Deadly Feasts, p. 222
Ground glass was in a shipment of burger shipped to four states. But federal law permitted the packinghouse to not tell state inspectors which stores and fast-food restaurants the burgers had been shipped to.
In 1906, Upton Sinclair wrote: "This is no fairy story and no joke. The meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble himself to lift out a rat even when he saw one. —There were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit" (Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, p. 135).
Sinclair told the facts about the meat industry. President Theodore Roosevelt read his book, The Jungle, and immediately ordered an independent investigation of U.S. slaughterhouses.
But the powerful magnets of the Beef Trust fought back. "Meat and food products, generally speaking, are handled as carefully and circumspectly in large packinghouses as they are in the average home kitchen," wrote J. Ogden Armour in the Saturday Evening Post (quoted in Skaggs, Prime Cut, p. 123).
After an angry legislative battle, Congress narrowly passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, a watered-down version of Roosevelt’s proposals that made taxpayers pay for the new regulations.
Nearly a hundred years have passed since then; and conditions in the packinghouses are now, if possible, even worse than before.
But, in addition, a variety of horrible new diseases have emerged. For back in Teddy’s day, cows ate grass out on the range and drank water from the creek. They were not, as they are today, born and raised in ponds of manure,—and fed ungutted dead animals in pelletized form as their only feed.
Times have changed. They are worse now.
Heart disease and cancer are the two biggest killers in the Western World. We now know a lot more about their causes than earlier.
• A large 1970 study analyzed the relationship between the dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and the number one killer, heart disease. The study included 12,000 men in seven countries, including the United States. It found that the two countries with the highest rate of death from heart disease were the two with the highest consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol: Finland and the United States (A. Keys, ed., "Coronary Heart Disease in Seven Countries," American Heart Association Monograph, No. 29, 1970, p. 211).
• In the mid 1970s a very large study was conducted by Loma Linda University in southern California. Because the eating habits of Seventh-day Adventists are higher than the American norm in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and lower in animal products, the diets of 24,000 were studied and compared with the diets of meat eaters (John Robbins, Diet for a New America, p. 215). Seventh-day Adventists who used dairy products (lacto-ovo vegetarians who do not eat meat but use milk and eggs) ranked one-third as high in heart disease mortality as meat eaters. Adventists who ate no meat or dairy products (vegans) had a rate only one-tenth as high (Peter Cox, The New Why You Don’t Need to Eat Meat, 1992, pp. 3-6).
• A 1988 published study of nearly 5,000 British vegetarians found the death rate from heart disease of male vegetarians to be 44% of that of the British population. For female vegetarians, it was 41% (Cox, p. 8).
• Here in the United States, lacto-ovo vegetarians have cholesterol levels that are 14% lower than meat eaters. Vegans have levels (averaging 128) that are 35% lower (Erik Marcus, Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, 1997, pp. 10, 14).
In addition to cardiovascular disease, the other main killer in the Western world is cancer.
• A massive population study, known as the China Health Project, concluded that those who eat the smallest amount of animal products have the lowest rates of cancer, heart disease, and several other degenerative diseases (Peter Cox, The New Why You Don’t Need to Eat Meat, 1992, pp. 9-10).
• That Chinese research report interested the German Government, so they tracked 1,900 vegetarians for 11 years and found their death rate to be about half that of the rest of the population. The official report concluded that, in order to have a strong nation, everyone should become vegetarians! There were less than one-half the expected deaths from cardiovascular disease, in both men and women, and very low rates for cancers of the digestive tract. Most of the vegetarians studied used milk and eggs (Food Chemical News, September 21, 1992, p. 10).
Alison Williams was 20 years old and lived in the coastal village of Caernarvon, in north Wales, England. Bright and outgoing, she was a business student who loved to sail and swim in nearby mountain lakes. Athletic, attractive, and intelligent; she had a happy life before her.
But, when she was 22, her personality changed suddenly. Her father recalls that she lost interest in other people, quit school, and came back to live at home with her parents. She would sit alone for hours, staring out the window.
By 1992, physicians diagnosed her as having a nervous breakdown. By 1995, she had grown paranoid and incontinent. "A month before she died, she went blind and lost the use of her tongue," her father recalls. "She spent the last five days in a coma." Alison Williams had contracted the human form of mad cow disease.
On July 11, 1997, Lee Harding ordered soft chicken tacos at a restaurant in Pueblo, Colorado. It was Friday night, and he and his wife were out to dinner. When the tacos arrived, Harding thought there was something wrong with them. The meat seemed to have gone bad. An hour or so after leaving the restaurant, Harding began to experience severe cramps. It felt like something was eating away at his stomach. He was fit and healthy, stood six-foot-one, weighed two hundred pounds. But he had never felt pain this intense before. He lay in bed through the night fighting the cramps, tightly curled into a ball. Then came the bloody diarrhea.
At the hospital, he waited three hours before the doctor told him, "It’s probably the summer flu." He was sent home with a prescription for an antibiotic.
Harding kept sinking, but then it was accidently discovered he had Escherichia coli 0157:H7, a virulent and potentially lethal food-borne pathogen.
Eventually the health authorities discovered the problem was not the tacos, but something in his freezer at home: frozen hamburgers he had bought at the supermarket and partly eaten Friday afternoon. In his freezer a Pueblo health official found a red, white, and blue box, marked "Beef Patties"; it still had a couple in it. Analyzed in the lab, that was where the E. coli came from. The burgers had been produced in Columbus, Nebraska—not in one of the oldest processing plants, but in one of the newest in the nation.
Jim Koepke spent his life as a ranch hand near Fallon, Nevada, tending cattle and sheep. He loved meat and also hunting. As a child he ate elk and deer killed by his father. His widow, Brenda, says that the 6-foot-1 cowboy shrank to less than 120 pounds before he died in 1999 at the age of 39. "I could carry him," she said. He died of mad cow disease.
Francis Will, of Evansville, Indiana, was 68 when he passed away. Local forensic pathologist John Heidingsfelder suspects it was mad cow because, in the previous year, he has seen three similar cases, one of which was confirmed by autopsy as mad cow. Yet, at the time Will died, the government still maintained that there are no human deaths from mad cow in America. Will loved to eat meat sandwiches; in fact he ate them every day. Doctors diagnosed his condition as various things, including anxiety and depression. But a daughter, Kathy Bredahal, a nurse working at a St. Louis hospital, suspected it was mad cow disease; for her father’s symptoms were similar to those of a man dying of mad cow she had helped care for at her hospital. Eventually Bredahal arranged for her father to be seen by neurologists at Barnes Diagnostic Center. After numerous tests, they decided it must be mad cow.