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How BSE misinformation is devastating the meat industry

Ken Conrad, a farmer who has been farming organically since 1982, believes that misinformation about the true nature of Mad Cow Disease continues to cost the global meat industry millions. Anthony Fletcher reports.

In January 2004, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) issued a press release with respect to mad cow disease. The release stated that, "when it comes to prevention, the situation is still confused", but then goes on to give a list of required measures for countries in order to, "reassure consumers".

Ken Conrad, a Canadian farmer who has been farming organically since 1982, uses this excerpt to underline his belief that public confidence in the meet supply has been undermined by misinformation. If the officials are so confused on how to prevent bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), aka mad cow disease, he asks, then how can they give a list of measures let alone reassure consumers?

"The answer to the above question probably rests with the fact that they believe the mutated prion is a contagion that is spread through consumption of meat and animal by products," he said. "Their belief however is based on a theory that is far from proven and widely disputed.

"They have opted for a simplistic solution to a complex problem and any research that demonstrates other than the status quo is marginalised and virtually ignored."

BSE, or Mad Cow Disease, a neurodegenerative, fatal brain disease of cattle, has been linked by some scientists to the human disease variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from October 1996 to November 2002, 129 cases of vCJD were reported in the UK, six in France and one each in Canada, Ireland, Italy and the US.

The 3.2 billion UK beef industry has been most severely affected. Following reports of a possible link between BSE and new variant CJD in 1996, domestic sales of beef products declined immediately by 40 per cent, and in April 1996 household consumption was 26 per cent below the level seen in the previous year.

Export markets were completely lost. The price of beef cattle fell by over 25 per cent, and many abattoirs had to temporarily close down or put their workers on short time.

This change in public perceptions towards beef products following BSE has been global. Earlier this year, a poll in the US revealed one in every five American adults - 21 per cent - said that fear of mad cow disease would change their eating habits, while 78 per cent of these people said that they would eat less beef.

According to the results of the Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-Care Poll, some 16 per cent indicated that they would stop eating beef altogether.

But Conrad believes that this theory of a prion as an infectious agent, as fuelled by sensational media reports and governments, is erroneous.

"I agree with the decision to stop feeding animal byproducts to ruminants," he said. "However I do not believe that Mad Cow Disease, BSE or vCJD result due to the consumption of a mutated prion protein, or that it is transmitted from animal to animal."

Conrad contends that there is mounting evidence to suggest that the mutated prion is more than likely a pathologic product. In other words, it has resulted due to some form of outside environmental and/or biomedical interference.

"I am open to the theory that it may be due to injection of a biomedical antigen," said Conrad. "Such an injection, which bypasses natural protein censoring mechanisms, as well as other barriers that protect against infiltration of foreign biological agents, would present a more likely avenue of entry.

"However, the mutated prions ability to breach the blood/brain barrier, is questionable and yet to be demonstrated."

Conrad points out that there are several invasive practices used as management tools in the livestock and agricultural industry as a whole that have the potential to stimulate mutation or act as transmissible agents, and he suggests that it is not unreasonable to assume that such practices could be implicated in the condition known as Mad Cow.

"There is widespread use of insecticide in the livestock industry," he said. "These neurological toxins, which are sometimes mandated by government officials, are fed, sprayed, injected or pored over the animal's spine within an inch of where the natural prion protein is located."

The extensive use of vaccines in the livestock industry, says Conrad, introduces various chemicals, biological toxins and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the blood. The above toxins whether introduced intentionally or incidentally, have demonstrated their ability to stimulate autoimmune conditions, as well as cause cancer, various degrees of brain damage and neurological disorders.

"Those who promote and implement the use of GMOs, have no clue as to the overall effect these genetically altered materials will have on neighbouring crops, native plants, animals, insects, birds, aquatic life and humans," he said. "Their intentions appear admirable at times, yet they demonstrate an impious and unconscientious contempt for the laws of nature."

Conrad point to an article in the Institute of Science In Society (ISIS) entitled "From BSE to GMOs - What Have We Learned." In it, Dr Harash Narang, a clinical virologist and BSE expert, states that "almost all GM crops now available have been modified to protect them from insects and or herbicides by inserting insecticide and or herbicide-tolerance genes".

Plants genetically modified through the insertion of insecticides such as, BT toxins isolated from the soil bacterium bacillus thuringiensis, according to Dr. Narang, "will be producing this bacteria in all parts of the plant, including pollen and nectar. Studies have shown that the monarch butterfly and lacewings are harmed by this toxin, as well as bees."

Conrad believes that big business and governments are recklessly disregarding the unique genetic background of individuals and species, with only surface knowledge of what they are doing. Basic scientific research, he claims, is being superseded by research for profit. The ability of farmers to produce a truly organic product and to maintain an independent sustainable system of agriculture is being threatened by what he calls the surreptitious introduction of GMOs into the environment.

"Hundreds of thousands of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens are being needlessly slaughtered around the world at the hands of officials who are attempting to justify their actions through fear of disease and/or pandemic, as if to give the impression that they are actually in control of the situation and can prevent it," said Conrad.

"Their efforts have served to mislead consumers and together they have created what can best be described by British TSE researcher and organic farmer, Mark Purdy as a "furore of hyper-infectious hysteria"."

Ken Conrad has lived and worked on farms all his life and currently owns and operates a beef farm in Northern Ontario in Canada. He is a past director on local committees for the Ontario Milk Marketing Board and Federation of Agriculture.