Another industry that, with government complicity, doesn’t care if they slowly poison you or not. Eating only 100% organic beef is one answer, going vegetarian is another. Either way, time to get angry.

So the USDA, an organization that haphazardly weaves its way between impotence and incompetence, today discovered a presumptive positive for Mad Cow disease in the State of Washington. What’s remarkable isn’t that there is a case of Mad Cow in the US—many independent authorities will tell you that the US is probably loaded with Mad Cow-laden cattle—it’s that the USDA found it at all.

A downer cow is a cow that is too sick to stand (the USDA will sometimes claim “too old” but the truth is the cow is too ill). For 2003, there were approximately 130,000 downer cows taken to the slaughterhouse in the US. The cow they got the presumptive positive on was one of these. Now you might be thinking—like the executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association claims, that, “The system worked” Except that downer cows remain in the human food chain, despite beef industry and USDA claims to the contrary. Indeed, most downers go untested, again contrary to what the beef industry and the USDA sometimes say. Legislative attempts have been made to fix this problem and insure a safe food supply, but the House Republicans defeated Senate-approved legislation that would have required removal of downer cows from the human food chain. The fallen bovine that set off the quarantine and will destroy US beef exports around the globe has likely already been in eaten, probably in the form of a hamburger. The USDA claims to have tested about 18,000 to 20,000 cattle during 2002-03, but refuses to release any records supporting this contention. Many observers, myself included, wonder exactly what it is the USDA is trying to hide.

Just so we’re clear, Mad Cow disease (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD) is an irreversible, brain-wasting, horrible way to die. It is related in many respects to Alzheimer’s, and in fact some scientists speculate that between 3 to 14 percent of Mad Cow CJD is being misdiagnosed as Alzheimers (up to some 200,000 cases per year in the US). The truth is that our testing and tracking of CJD is so inadequate here in the US that we don’t know what we have and what we don’t.

In my opinion, for most meat, “USDA Inspected” isn’t a seal of quality, it’s a warning label. Because USDA inspectors only do visual inspections of almost all the cattle and beef they see, it’s almost impossible for them to determine if something is suitable for consumption. They lucked into finding a mad cow they did in Washington, which probably indicates that the problem is much more wide-spread—if not rampant—in the US. If you’re not eating 100% organic, hormone-free beef or going vegetarian, you’re playing Russian roulette with your health.