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To be or not to be, BSE

Certainly by now everyone has heard about the recent BSE infected cow from northern Alberta. If I’m not mistaken, this is yet another case where the infected animal was located in Northern Alberta. Like the last case some four years ago, we are told the likely cause for this incident is residue from old feed – ruminant to any other ruminant. Essentially it’s said that any exposure, however minuscule, could be the culprit. That’s the storyline anyway and really who can argue otherwise given this belief is that of mainstream science – it’s the feed.

While I was thinking about this latest case I had a sense of deja-vu. I remembered reading contrarian views about the root cause of cattle being infected from feed. So searching through our Alberta Beef Magazine library I found what I was looking for. It was our September, 2003 edition which featured the late (2006) Mark Purdey on the front cover. Mark, an educated man, operated an organic dairy farm in England. He lived a simple life with his family in the countryside. What brought Mark into the limelight was a well-publicized court case in the 80’s that saw him take on the British Government. Back then it was mandated by the Ministry of Agriculture that all cattle (beef and dairy) be treated for Warble Flies using organophosphate insecticides. This was a governmental compulsory Warble Fly eradication scheme that Mark fought. It was obviously counterintuitive to a staunch organic dairy farmer notwithstanding the large doses mandated. He won his appeal and was exempted from having to treat his “organic”cattle with the insecticide. Some years later the BSE disaster struck-in England. As things unfolded with BSE, Mark became more than curious, almost obsessive in studying this disease. He asked simple and logical questions like, why organic farmed cattle did not contract BSE? Nor did it make sense that thousands of cattle that had not been alive when [contaminated] feed was used still came down with BSE. He started circulating alternative theories as to the origin of BSE which essentially identified environmental and chemical factors as causes.

From his research he noted that environmentally speaking many of the infected cattle were located in areas where Manganese levels were high and Copper low. Adding the use of chemicals (organophosphate insecticides) which is said to be derived from military nerve gases, was theorized to disturb the balance of metals in the animals’brains, giving rise to misfolded proteins called prions that are commonly regarded as the cause of BSE. Hence, he claimed these two factors disrupted the mineral balance of the brain and given the right catalyst resulted in misfolding proteins. That trigger  was believed by Purdey to be exposure to infrasonic sound/shockwaves from military jets and other sources. Essentially the perfect storm.

Outside our borders we still see the odd case of BSE rear its ugly head. Norway just last month (January) confirmed it too discovered a 15 year old cow with BSE. Some months before that Portugal reported another case. Going forward lets hope BSE, classical or atypical strains are never again reported and we can get on with marketing beef for what it is, great protein. Which reminds me of our quest for a sustainability statement. I found this too while in the library and though it’s penned by Americans, I think it hits the nail on the head.

Until next month.

We are the farmers and ranchers of America.

Americans and their children eat and drink what we grow and raise. Our life’s work feeds and nourishes our families,

our neighbors, our communities, and our country.

We embrace this great responsibility as stewards of our food, our land and our animals.

We commit to working together, regardless of type, size or philosophy of our farms and ranches,

to continue improving our food supply.

We commit to doing everything in our power to protect and improve human health and the enjoyment of our food.

We commit to making the environment

– the land, air and water that belongs to all of us

– healthier and sustainable for all generations.

We commit to keeping our animals healthy and well cared for.

We commit to the business of farming and the health of our economy, knowing that what makes our businesses stronger is producing the highest quality products.

And we commit to sharing information

about our methods freely and openly.

Farming and ranching is our profession – but for most of us,

it is also our life. The food we grow and raise reflects

our characters, our commitments and our lives.

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