“Dear Morning Edition….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:54 am

Dear Morning Edition,

I found myself frustrated by your article this morning about a South Dakota company producing genetically-engineered cattle that may be immune to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, also known as Mad Cow Disease. (That’s another minor quibble of mine: in the story, reporter Nell Boyce referred to the disease as, “Mad Cow disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE.” Shouldn’t the established, scientific name of the disease come first, and the common name be included as the “also known as”? But I digress.)

The article provided a quick but informative look at the research being done to genetically strip cows of the brain proteins susceptible to the BSE agent. What you failed to mention—and I feel this is a critical omission—is the method by which cows are typically exposed to the disease in the first place.

Commercial beef and dairy cattle are regularly fed a mixture that includes the remains of other cattle, and it is that material, specifically the nervous tissue, that can contain the prions that cause BSE. If you eliminate rendered animals from their feed, the likelihood of exposure to BSE drops effectively to zero.

Without this key information, the listener may mistakenly conclude that BSE is a ubiquitous factor in the environment of cattle, and that complex and drastic action is required to mitigate the danger. In fact, the solution is quite simple and relatively painless to implement.

Even being the hopeless technophile that I am, I sometimes feel that we strive for overly complex technical solutions to simple problems. The beef industry doesn’t need to irradiate its product to make sure the fecal matter present is free of harmful bacteria; it needs to slow down its production lines so that the mistakes that result in high levels of manure in our hamburgers don’t occur. Likewise, we don’t need to alter the genetic makeup of cattle to resist exposure to BSE; we just need to eliminate the only serious vector of that exposure, namely animal byproducts in their food.

The more widely this sort of information is disseminated, the better informed the public will be. Perhaps then, consumers can bring sufficient pressure to bear against the industry to enact the measures needed to insure the safety of our food supply.

2 Responses to ““Dear Morning Edition….””

  1. Gavin Says:

    But if they report that it is easily prevented nobody will be scared long enough to watch the commercial.

  2. Uncle Andrew Says:

    I’m a little confused; “commercial” for what? For the genetically engineered cattle, or for the news story? Or for something else I’m missing?

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