Just as BPI’s lean finely textured beef was unfairly characterized as “pink slime” and the H1N1 flu strain was dubbed “swine flu” by the media, the beef industry has one longer-lived slur. That is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) as “mad cow disease.”
The U.S. beef industry has had four cases of BSE -- the latest was discovered last spring in a California dairy cow, and it never entered the food supply. The fact is, however, that humans can’t contract the human form of BSE (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) from eating meat such as steaks and roasts. BSE in cattle is found only in central nervous tissue and not in the actual meat of the animal. And USDA has a complex system of regulatory controls and interlocking safeguards to prevent the entry of contaminated meat into the food supply.
Still, many consumers are still concerned about how safe their beef is. Undoubtedly, their concerns probably stem from statements like this one that appeared in the July 2102 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) magazine:
“We are turning cows into cannibals, the practice that started the mad cow problem in the first place," says Michael Hansen, senior scientist at CR, on giving cows feed that contains poultry litter, cattle brains and blood. A cow in California tested positive for mad cow disease in April.
This quote appeared in CR’s “Viewpoint” section, a page of the magazine that highlights efforts of the Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of CR to improve the marketplace.
Thanks to reader Errol Wells of Elba, NE, who brought this article to my attention. Wells is a firm believer in responding to negative articles in the media and being a proactive advocate for agriculture.
A Closer Look: Letter From Errol
Upon reading the article, Wells approached CR; however, the magazine has yet to respond to his concerns about the inflammatory statements made about the beef industry.
“Despite my repeated demands for retraction of this blatantly false article and apology to the America’s cattlemen and women, they have not done so. Hopefully, some of you will take Consumers Reports to task for their false article. I hope that I am not the only one willing to do battle with them," Wells says.
Errol, you certainly aren’t alone in your frustration; I, too, was upset to see this published in a consumer magazine, so I’ve drafted up my own letter to send to CR. Here’s what I had to say:
Dear CR Editor:
I was disappointed to see your statements regarding beef safety and BSE in the July 2012 issue of your magazine. As a cattle rancher and beef lover, I can assure you that our nation’s beef supply is safe from pasture to plate.
Calling cattle “cannibals” is completely false. Yes, BSE can be spread through certain cattle feed ingredients, but those have been banned since 1997. USDA check points, regulatory controls and interlocking safeguards ensure that even if a case of BSE is detected, there is zero chance of the meat from that animal ever entering the food supply.
From bseinfo.org, “In 2007, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) classified the U.S. as a controlled risk country in regard to BSE, meaning U.S. regulatory controls are effective and fresh beef and products from cattle of all ages is safe.
“For more than 20 years the USDA has been developing and implementing a robust system of safeguards to ensure a BSE-free food supply. Tissues that could potentially carry BSE in an animal – including the brain and spinal cord – must be removed from cattle prior to processing, and therefore are not allowed into the food supply. This step along with other safeguards ensures BSE has no affect on public health.
“The U.S. began an active BSE surveillance program in 1990 and, since its inception, more than 1 million cattle at greatest risk for BSE have been tested. USDA’s ongoing BSE surveillance program tests approximately 40,000 high-risk cattle annually. This program is rigorous and exceeds international guidelines by 10 times.”
I think your readers deserve to hear the facts about BSE and beef safety, so that they can enjoy a steak without guilt or fear.
Beef enthusiast, cattle rancher
If you are as frustrated about this report as I and Wells are, write your own letter and fill out the provided form here to share your concerns with the magazine. Under "CR Producets/Services," selecte "Consumer Reports magazine" and click on "Letter to the Editor." Let CR know that we won’t tolerate false reporting.