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February 05, 2002

Mad At Cows

Jean has had an embargo on beef for Kelly for I-don't-know-how-long. Last Friday Kelly let it be known that all her friends at school had cheeseburgers for lunch, and that she was very sad that she couldn't partake. Jean said she'd do the research, and decide this weekend. I agreed to do some research also, and a simple search on Google turned up a wealth of information. This would have been much more painful had we needed to make a trip to the reference section of the library. Anyway, I sent my summary message to Jean via email, and here it is:

This study was conducted under USDA contract by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. The scientific lead was from the Harvard School of Public Health at Harvard University. Study ran for three years. Results were announced November 30, 2001.

Searching the net for references to this study and the words 'peer review' show that nobody has done one, so take the report with a grain of salt. The USDA itself lists among it's actions: "arrange for the risk assessment to be peer reviewed by a team of outside experts to validate its scientific integrity". Not enough time has elapsed for such a peer review to take place, in my judgement.

I only found one outright negative 'review' of the study, calling it 'cigarette science' and accusing Harvard of being a lapdog of the meat industry, posted before the report was published, at a site called www.mad-cow.org, so take *them* with a grain of salt ;^)~

Everything you ever wanted to know:



  • No known cases of BSE in the US after 13 years of intensive scrutiny. Meat import policies, feed regulation and testing form a triple-firewall against incursions.
  • Study runs simulations on worst-case scenarios based on real data from the U.K., taking current US rules into account. Result, worst case sees *possibly* one or two cases of vCJD per year, over a twenty year period from the time when infected cattle enter the country. The lesser scenarios all had no human infections, and all scenarios showed outbreaks dying out within 20 years.

Final Judgement:

I think it is currently safer for Kelly to eat beef than to ride in an automobile, to pick a well-known risk benchmark.

Then Jean asked her biology teacher, whom she characterized as a far-left liberal, what she thought. The teacher went off on a litany of problems with beef, from antibiotics fed to cows to injections of bovine growth hormone, and how all this could affect Kelly. When Jean asked her about BSE, she said, "oh, if that's all you're worried about, it's not a problem. But you really shouldn't feed her beef."

So this Sunday, I gave Kelly a choice between trying once again to see Snow Dogs and going to McDonald's Playland for a happy meal, and she chose the latter. You've never seen such a happy child!

Posted by dpwakefield at February 5, 2002 07:41 AM