According to an article that appeared in the New York Times ("New Steps
Urged Against Cow Disease", March 28, 1997) the US Food and Drug
Administration is reluctant to place a wider ban on the practice of
re-feeding animal parts to animals. As Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, director
of the center for veterinary medicine at the FDA put it, such a ban
would require that officials "find some way to dispose of the animal
renderings that are now used in feed".
The FDA earlier had proposed a ban on using animal tissue from animals
that chew their cud in animal feed. Now a coalition of consumer groups
is asking that hog tissue be added to the ban. This is not only a
reasonable request, it is vital to the security of the beef industry
because of the probable link between the re-feeding of animal tissue and
the outbreak of mad cow disease. Yet, according to the NY Times article
Thomas Billy, administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service
said that no further measures were necessary even though the Department
was "concerned" about the possible risk of hogs used in feed, since
there was "no evidence that argues for broadening what we are doing".
It is in the interest of both consumers and the beef industry that FDA
and USDA do everything possible to protect consumers. Acting only based
on hard core "evidence" or on what is convenient for the industry is too
little, too late. What do we need for evidence---an actual case of mad
cow disease linked to the re-feeding of hogs to cows? Once that happens
it is too late. The beef industry would suffer a devastating blow as it
did in Great Britain.
The excuse that officials need to "find some way to dispose of the
animal renderings that are now used in feed" is curious reasoning to say
the least. Since when is it the responsibility of government officials
to find a solution to a problem created by an industry? Agricultural
enterprises incur these problems when they shift from locally owned,
community businesses, to larger, concentrated factory-style operations.
When we concentrate animals and the processing of animals, we
concentrate waste that was formally recycled and used in dispersed
locations. We also concentrate diseases, necessitating the increased
use of antibiotics which increase the resistance of the pathogens that
cause the diseases.
What USDA and the industry has been unwilling to acknowledge is that
fundamental ecologies get broken when animals are concentrated into
specialized mega factory farms and processed in huge packing plants.
When animals are dispersed on farms and integrated into cropping systems
the feed required by animals is produced on the farm and the waste
produced by the animals is recycled to the fields to produce the feed,
along with other crops.
When animals from such operations are locally processed, there is a
greater tendency to use the whole animal so there is little animal
tissue to render. In their wonderful book, Outlaw Cook, John and Matt
Lewis Thorne remind us that when animals were processed in local
communities "stock" (the broth made from trimmings and bones and cuts of
meat too tough to eat) was a delicacy provided by local cooks and
butchers. Modern industrial enterprises (and eaters) now use only
pre-packaged cuts, leaving the rest as "waste" that we need to dispose
of. So someone came up with the bright idea of re-feeding it to
Now we know that these ecological and social disruptions incur costs.
They include social and environmental costs (and sometimes human health
costs). But for the government to assume responsibility for these costs
is a subsidy of the wrong kind. The corporate meat industry destroyed
the ecologically efficient food systems that included integrated
crop\livestock operations and locally owned meat processing butcheries.
It should now incur the costs of its more "efficient" system. Perhaps
then the free market can determine which system is really the most
The government's responsibility is to protect the public, not the
interests of large corporations. The government's claim that it cannot
take action without solving a problem the industry created, or that it
must refrain from taking action in the public's interest until it has
sufficient "evidence" rings hollow, to say the least. The reasoning is
as diseased as the cows it produces.