I found your response to the question from Jorge Saavedra on mad-cow disease somewhat confusing, not to say astounding. I have been reading your column avidly for some months now, but as a European I find your assessment of the risk of mad-cow disease in this country uncannily reminiscent of the tone and attitude of the politicians in power at the start of the mad-cow disease fiasco in England back when it was just beginning to receive media attention. We were told all sorts of soothing things about the danger; and while the risks of contracting CJD may well be low, the factors that lead to it being a risk at all are really the biggest scandal of all. It is quite clear that the safeguards against mad-cow disease are even scantier here than they were in England, and I have to say that I found your attitude on this to be really somewhat cavalier. I will readily admit that as I am not a doctor or scientist, my opinion will always be subjective, but nonetheless you make it look like the whole affair as it played out in Europe (especially in the light of a possible rerun of many of the same issues here) was just a storm in a teacup. Personally I would like The Nation to do a real exposé on the way the Food and Drug Administration functions here and its connections with the industry it is meant to be regulating.
PS: As an aside, I would love to know what your opinion is on GM food. I find it shocking how little people in the United States seem to be aware of what it is they might be eating and how little is truly known about how it might be affecting their health, because the research is almost wholly funded and led by the private interests that ultimately intend to put the product on the market. Is there really enough independent research on GM to prove that it is safe?
I think you know from my past writings that I’m very willing to stand correction or reorientation. And I certainly understand your perspective, coming as you do from the mad-cow endemic region. However, let me make my position clear:
(1) Though well over 100,000 cows were found to be infected with prions in Europe, and there were probably many more, nevertheless, the number of humans who have been infected with variable CJD is only a little over a hundred. Though 100 cases is nothing to dismiss, at the same time, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the expectation was that thousands of humans were going to be infected by mad-cow disease (caused by absurdly feeding cows sheep brains from potentially infected sheep). The reason for the false expectation is not reasonable public or animal health prevention, of course, but rather the interspecies barrier that protected humans, as well as the fact that many muscle cuts didn’t contact infectious prions.
(2) At the same time, I am definitely not letting the public health authorities off the hook here. I insist on being scientifically accurate, but I realize that the method of raising and inspecting beef puts many consumers at risk every day, if not so much from BSE, then certainly from hoof and mouth disease, E. coli and other diseases more prevalent in humans. We eat too much beef, our beef isn’t raised properly and it isn’t screened properly. These are the major issues, not mad cow. Mad cow is a symptom of a larger public health disease–one that I agree should be minutely examined.
Somewhere, we recall hearing or reading that the United States is the only industrialized Western nation that does not provide a healthcare system for its population but leaves it to insurance companies to provide private plans for healthcare. I would like to find confirmation for this fairly obvious conclusion, but I’ve never heard of any healthcare system in the USA except the private or welfare healthcare plans. Reduction of the Medicare prescription charges recently is not going to help anyone, it seems, except perhaps the drug companies. It’s difficult to understand the general acceptance of the direction of the present policies of the US and British governments.