The fallout from the first U.S. case of mad cow disease has spawned two anecdotes that ought to leave anyone involved with the food industry muttering in his soup.

The fallout from the first U.S. case of mad cow disease has spawned two anecdotes that ought to leave anyone involved with the food industry muttering in his soup.

Back in January the Center for Global Food Issues (CGFI) said organic food companies, were "attempting to manipulate search engines and news portals" with misleading information about mad cow, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).

You may recognize CGFI, for its Milk is Milk campaign, which rails against organic labeling and "no rBST" pledges. Well, in its January release, it claims anyone running a Google search for "mad cow" would find alarmist messages from organic companies and anti-meat activists, rather than any useful scientific material. These groups were exploiting consumer concerns and spreading false fears, CGFI said. To rectify the situation, it launched its own www.mad-cow-facts.com.

Curious, I ran a Yahoo search for "mad cow" and the first thing I found was a matter-of-fact message from USDA. I also found CGFI's site, with its position on the matter. As with all other issues, the CGFI group, an offspring of the Hudson Institute, insists that "conventional" agriculture is the most efficient, safest way to grow food, and that those with alternative ideas have ulterior motives.

I also found that on its Website, Organic Valley Family of Farms, LaFarge, Wis., has a FAQ section on mad cow. Organic Valley does present some scary information about BSE. It also explains that USDA organic standards are much stricter than USDA's conventional meat standards, and prevent the feeding of rendered meat to organic herds. It goes on to suggest that "unnatural factory farming" is at the root of two possible explanations for the cause of the disease. It's a bit inflammatory, yes.

But in light of what's happened since Christmas Eve, I don't think a reasonable person would equate Organic Valley's message with the Chicken Little tale.

When the news broke of that Holstein being found to have BSE I think many consumers learned for the first time that "Bessie" eventually becomes hamburger. And a whole bunch of people who previously only associated the term "downer" with sad movies or sedatives were shocked to find that until this outbreak, USDA routinely allowed the slaughter of animals too sick to walk.

Let's see, the most common theory is that BSE emerged when animals were given feed containing rendered animal bi-products including brain and nerve tissue. Could it be that if consumers are apprehensive, they have reason to be?

In late February a story appeared in the New York Times about a Kansas beef producer wanting to test its cattle for BSE so that it can resume doing business with Asian customers. The Department of Agriculture doesn't like the idea.

Creekstone Farms, Arkansas City, used to sell a quarter of its premium Angus beef to Asia, and the Japanese government has indicated it would probably accept the meat if certain rapid testing was done to show it was not contaminated. But USDA says it's unlawful for any company to sell the test. The same test, or one like it, is certainly approved and in use in Japan.

Creekstone's president John Stewart says USDA will likely never approve the use of the test, because it does not want to recognize that BSE is a problem. Indeed a representative of the American Meat Institute is quoted saying that American beef is so safe that wide-scale testing is not needed.

Excuse me?

Until now, only downers were given random tests in the U.S. Now a witness has claimed that the Canadian/American cow found to have BSE may not have been a downer at all, but was instead among the millions of animals processed each year without being part of the pool that is eligible for testing.

Hard to understand why those organic companies are making such a fuss, isn't it?

Editor's Note:

Our April issue features the debut of three new periodic columns authored by industry experts. In Quality on the Line, Henry Randolph will discuss process and quality assurance issues. Culturally Speaking, authored by Bob Roberts peers through the microscope at cultured dairy products, and Beyond the Filler with Don Wilson takes on logistics and distribution. Dairy Foods will, of course, continue to bring you the thoughts of Jerry Dryer and Tharp & Young. We are confident that these additional expert perspectives complement what is already the strongest editorial package offered to dairy industry professionals.