Mad cows and sheepish responses

Korea Times 05-28-2012

Mad cows and sheepish responses

By Mark D. Whitaker

This is a response to the irrational passivity in Korean policy after BSE-tainted U.S. beef was found in California and the Seoul government failed to take strong enough action on beef imports. If there is a gram of rationality left in this country, heed these words because your government is not going to protect you and likely nor is your increasingly state-controlled media.

A total of three different peer reviewed studies find a lot of "human mad cow” in the United States. It’s an outrageous scandal to keep ignoring it.

Three studies find classification errors hiding massive numbers of people suffering from CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of the prion disease) in the United States. First, as long ago as 1989, a Yale team performed autopsies on those in the United States diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s and found that 13 percent really had CJD. A second investigation produced similar results: three of 12 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s really had the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy disease. Third, a much larger University of Pittsburgh study "found the [U.S. prion disease] misdiagnosis rate of 5 percent... estimated at 200,000 CJD in the U.S. per year.”

To elaborate on one study, Laura Manuelidis, chief of surgery of the Neuropathology Department of Yale University in 1989 study found 13 percent of U.S. Alzheimer’s patients really had CJD. Several studies including hers found autopsies that showed 3 to 13 percent of patients falsely diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia really suffered from CJD.

Those numbers might sound low, but there are 4 million Alzheimer’s patients and hundreds of thousands of dementia cases in the United States. It is argued that a small percentage of those can be up to 120,000 or more undetected CJD cases, not included in official statistics.

In short, several years ago the Korean beef protest’s similar touchstone was hardly irrational opposition to U.S. beef. It was influenced by
accurate reporting. Due to heavy state repression and spin, that independent reporting doesn’t exist much anymore in Korea.

However, it fails to change the fact that probably a lot of Americans ― and many others worldwide ― have been killed due to American beef infected with CJD. There is evidence that it continues to be falsely classified as Alzheimer’s (that is exploding in the United States) instead of classified by actual tests to show how much of it is really CJD.

Soon I anticipate that the Korean "Alzheimer’s" rate will be made to go up in a politically convenient fashion unless something is done to set up actual medical tests to discriminate accurately between the scale of actual Alzheimer’s and actual CJD in Korea.

For my suggestions on Korean policy improvement, we can update science and public policy to do an autopsy on every Korean neurological patient when they die (to catch misdiagnoses of Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems ― that may be CJD/mad cow disease in humans). Secondly, test every cow for BSE (U.S. and Korean cows).

Educate yourself about the variations in regulation systems worldwide in different countries to be a knowledgeable consumer. Japan and the European Union test all cows. The United States and Canada test less than 1 percent. Plus, much of U.S. cattle come from Canada anyway ― and Canada finds ’mad cows’ quite regularly.

Despite this already low international standard of regulation and beef testing across North America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture testing for mad cow disease has been reduced even lower ― by 90 percent since 2005. Which regulation system do you think produces the better product as a result, and which one has less systemic health problems for you to worry about?

The best solution is to encourage a more sound local food supply that can at least be regulated by the Korean government with potential checks and balances of national politics ― unlike the "melamine roulette" game from China, or the "mad cow roulette" from the United States and Canada.

Take the high road: regulate your own industry at home better, and the whole world will want and trust Korean safer products. You want a ’brand image’ for Korea? What about the world’s safest food? If you take the low road, no one wins except the prions.

The writer is a professor of environmental sociology. He is also the author of "Toward a Bioregional State” (2005), the first book on green constitutional engineering, and "Ecological Revolution” (2009). His email address is

source: Korea Times
keywords: food safety | SPS, Korea, US