Table of Contents:



I. Storm Gathering

1. 1918

2. Master of Metamorphosis

3. H5N1

4. Playing Chicken

5. Worse Than 1918?

6. When, Not If

II. When Animal Viruses Attack

1. The Third Age

2. Man Made

3. Livestock Revolution

4. Tracing the Flight Path

5. One Flu Over the Chicken's Nest

6. Coming Home to Roost

7. Guarding the Henhouse

III. Pandemic Preparedness

1. Cooping Up Bird Flu

2. Race Against Time

3. Tamiflu

IV. Surviving the Pandemic

1. Don't Wing It

2. Our Health in Our Hands

3. Be Prepared

V. Preventing Future Pandemics

1. Tinderbox

2. Reining in the Pale Horse


References 1-3,199

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Global public health experts have identified “dubious practices used in modern animal husbandry” beyond the inherent overstocking, stress, and filth that have directly or indirectly launched deadly new diseases.1073 One such “misguided” brave new farm practice is the continued feeding of slaughterhouse waste, blood, and excrement to livestock to save on feed costs.1074

Feed expenditures remain the single largest industry expense.1075 The livestock industry has experimented with feeding newspaper, cardboard, cement dust, and sewer sludge to farm animals.1076 A U.S. News and World Report article summarized the gambit: “Cattle feed now contains things like manure and dead cats.”1077 The Animal Industry Association defends these practices, arguing that the average U.S. farm animal “eats better than the average U.S. citizen.”1078 Forcing natural herbivores like cows, sheep, and other livestock to be carnivores and cannibals turned out to have serious public health implications.

A leading theory on the origin of mad cow disease is that cows got it by being fed diseased sheep.1079 In modern corporate agribusiness, protein concentrates (or “meat and bone meal,” euphemistic descriptions of “trimmings that originate on the killing floor, inedible parts and organs, cleaned entrails, fetuses…”1080 ) are fed to dairy cows to increase milk production,1081 as well as to most other livestock.1082 According to the World Health Organization, nearly ten million metric tons of slaughterhouse waste is fed to livestock every year.1083 The recycling of the remains of infected cattle into cattle feed was probably what led to the British mad cow epidemic’s explosive spread1084 to nearly two dozen countries around the world in the subsequent 20 years.1085 Dairy producers can use corn or soybeans as a protein feed supplement, but slaughterhouse by-products may be cheaper.1086

An editorial in the British Medical Journal described mad cow disease as resulting “from an accidental experiment on the dietary transmissibility of prion disease between sheep and cows.”1087 A subsequent “accidental experiment”—with humans—started in the late 1980s as meat contaminated with mad cow disease entered the human food supply.1088 Prions—infectious proteins—are the unconventional pathogens that cause mad cow-like diseases. Unlike other foodborne pathogens that can be treated with antibiotics and killed by proper cooking, prions are practically indestructible, surviving incineration1089 at temperatures hot enough to melt lead.1090

More than 100 young people have been killed in this "experiment" by the human form of mad cow disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD),1091 whose standard clinical picture can involve weekly deterioration1092 into blindness and epilepsy1093 while the brain becomes riddled with holes.1094 vCJD produces a relentlessly progressive1095 and invariably fatal dementia.1096 As described in a 2004 review, “vCJD always results in death, and the disease process is highly dreaded—mute, blind, incontinent, immobile/paralyzed/bedridden….”1097 It may take decades between the act of eating infected meat and coming down with the initial symptoms of a vCJD death sentence.1098 The best available evidence suggests that as many as 1,000 more in Britain may be destined to die1099 with what Britain’s Secretary of Health called the “worse form of death” imaginable.1100

A decade ago, the World Health Organization called for the exclusion of the riskiest bovine tissues—cattle brains, eyes, spinal cord, and intestine—from the human food supply and from all animal feed.1101 Unfortunately, the United States still feeds some of these potentially risky tissues to people, pigs, pets, poultry, and fish.1102 Then pig remains can be fed back to cattle.1103 Cattle remains are still fed to chickens, and poultry litter (the mixture of excrement, spilled feed, dirt, feathers, and other debris that is scooped from the floors of broiler sheds1104 ) is fed back to cows.1105 In these ways, prions may continue to be cycled back into cattle feed and complete the cow “cannibalism” circuit.

Ecologists assert that animal fecal wastes pose public health risks “similar to those of human wastes and should be treated accordingly,”1106 yet in animal agriculture today, fecal wastes are fed to other animals. Although excrement from other species is fed to livestock in the United States, chicken droppings are considered more nutritious for cows than pig feces or cattle dung.1107 Because poultry litter can be as much as eight times cheaper than foodstuffs like alfalfa,1108 the U.S. cattle industry feeds poultry litter to cattle.1109 A thousand chickens can make enough waste to feed a growing calf year round.1110

A single cow can eat as much as three tons of poultry waste a year,1111 yet the manure does not seem to affect the taste of the subsequent milk or meat.1110 Taste panels have found little difference in the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of beef from steers fed up to 50% poultry litter. Beef from animals fed bird droppings may in fact even be more juicy and tender.1113 Cows are typically not given feed containing more than 80% poultry litter, though, since it’s not as palatable1114 and may not fully meet protein and energy needs.1115

The industry realizes that the practice of feeding poultry manure to cattle might not stand up to public scrutiny. They understand that the custom carries “certain stigmas,”1116 “presents special consumer issues,”1117 and poses “potential public relations problems.”1118 They seem puzzled as to why the public so “readily accepts organically grown vegetables” grown with composted manure, while there is “apparent reluctance on the part of the public” to accept the feeding of poultry litter to cattle.1119 “We hope,” says one industry executive, “common sense will prevail.”1120

The editor of Beef magazine commented, “The public sees it as ‘manure.’ We can call it what we want and argue its safety, feed value, environmental attributes, etc., but outsiders still see it simply as ‘chicken manure.’ And, the most valid and convincing scientific argument isn’t going to counteract a gag reflex.”1121 The industry’s reaction, then, has been to silence the issue. According to Beef, public relations experts within the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association warned beef producers that discussing the issue publicly would only “bring out more adverse publicity.”1122 When the Kansas Livestock Association dared to shine the spotlight on the issue by passing a resolution urging the discontinuation of the practice, irate producers in neighboring states threatened a boycott of Kansas feed-yards.1123

In compliance with World Health Organization guidelines, Europe has forbidden the feeding of all slaughterhouse and animal waste to livestock.1124 The American Feed Industry Association called such a ban “a radical proposition.”1125 The American Meat Institute agreed, stating, “[N]o good is accomplished by…prejudicing segments of society against the meat industry.”1126 As far back as 1993, Gary Weber, director of Beef Safety and Cattle Health for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, admitted that the industry could find economically feasible alternatives to feeding rendered animal protein to other animals, but that the Cattlemen’s Association did not want to set a precedent of being ruled by “activists.”1127

Gary Weber was the beef industry spokesperson who appeared on the infamous Oprah Winfrey show in 1996. An internal U.S. government PR crisis management document showed that the government knew such feeding practices would be “vulnerable to media scrutiny.”1128 Indeed, alarmed and disturbed that cows in the United States are fed the remains of other cattle, Oprah swore she would never eat another burger.1129 After Oprah tried to remind the audience that cows were supposed to be herbivores, Weber defended the practice by stating, “Now keep in mind, before you—you view the ruminant animal, the cow, as simply a vegetarian—remember that they drink milk.”11130 The absurdity of the statement aside, it’s not even accurate. In modern agribusiness, humans drink the milk. Calves typically get milk “replacer.”

Like all mammals, cows can only produce milk after they’ve had a baby. Most newborn calves in the United States are separated from their mothers within 12 hours—many immediately after birth—so the mother’s milk can be marketed for human consumption.1131 Though some dairy farmers still wean calves on whole milk, the majority of producers use milk replacer,1132 which too often contains spray-dried cattle blood as a cheap source of protein.1133 The chief disadvantage of blood-based milk replacer, according to the vice president of product development for the Animal Protein Corporation, is simply its “different color.” Milk replacer containing blood concentrate typically has a “chocolate brown” color which can leave a dark residue on the bottles, buckets, and utensils used to feed the liquid.1134 “For some producers,” the company official remarked, “the difference is difficult to accept at first, since the product does not look ‘like milk.’” But the “[c]alves don’t care,” he was quick to add.1135

The calves may not care, but Stanley Prusiner does. Prusiner won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions. He was quoted in the New York Times as calling the practice of feeding cattle blood to young calves “a really stupid idea.”1136 The European Commission also condemned the practice of “intraspecies recycling of ruminant blood and blood products”—the practice of suckling calves on cows’ blood protein.1137 Even excluding the fact that brain emboli may pass into the trough that collects the blood once an animal’s throat is slit,1138 the report concludes, “As far as ruminant blood is concerned, it is considered that the best approach to protect public health at present is to assume that it could contain low levels of infectivity.”1139 Calves in the United States are still drinking up to three cups of “red blood cell protein” concentrate every day.1140

The American Protein Corporation is the largest spray-dryer of blood in the world1141 and advertises blood products that can even be fed “through the drinking water” to calves and pigs.1142 The majority of pigs in the United States are raised in part on spray-dried blood meal.1143 According to the National Renderers Association, although young pigs may find spray-dried blood meal initially unpalatable, they eventually get used to it.1144

Dateline NBC quoted D. Carleton Gajdusek, the first to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on prion diseases,1145 as saying, “[I]t’s got to be in the pigs as well as the cattle. It’s got to be passing through the chickens.”1146 Paul Brown, medical director for the U.S. Public Health Service, also believes that pigs and poultry could be harboring mad cow disease and passing it on to humans, adding that pigs are especially sensitive to the disease. “It’s speculation,” he says, “but I am perfectly serious.”1147

Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries stop feeding remains of cows to cows, yet the U.S. government still allows dairy farmers to feed calves gallons of a mixture of concentrated cow blood and fat collected at the slaughterhouse.1148 Industry representatives continue to actively support this practice.1149 “It was the farmers’ fault,” one young victim whispered to her mother from the bed where she waged and lost a painful, prolonged battle against vCJD.1150

Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries test their downed cattle—those animals too sick or crippled even to walk—for mad cow disease, yet the U.S. government tests but a fraction of this high-risk population. The beef industry calls U.S. surveillance “aggressive”1151 and doesn’t think more testing is necessary.1152 Stanley Prusiner, the world’s authority on these diseases, calls U.S. surveillance “appalling.”1153

Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries stop feeding risky cattle organs (like brains) to all livestock. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations agrees with this no-brainer.1154 The U.S. government continues to violate these guidelines. The American Meat Institute and 14 other industry groups vocally oppose such a ban.1155 The British government’s Official Inquiry into mad cow disease (also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) concluded: “BSE developed into an epidemic as a consequence of an intensive farming practice—the recycling of animal protein in ruminant feed. This practice, unchallenged over decades, proved a recipe for disaster.”1156

True, it is hard to predict disease consequences of new innovations. Consider the tampon. “Devised to reduce a woman’s monthly inconvenience,” National Institutes of Health researchers wrote, “it provided a rich culture medium for Staphylococcus aureus and as a result killed many [through toxic shock syndrome].”1157 The meat industry has long known that cannibalistic feeding practices could be harmful, though, as Salmonella epidemics in poultry linked to the recycling of animal remains back into animal feed had been described well before the mad cow disease epidemic.1158 Even if the meat industry didn’t realize the scope of the potential human hazard then, it certainly should now. Yet it remains opposed to a total ban on the feeding of slaughterhouse waste, blood, and excrement to farm animals.1159

Journalism professor Mark Jerome Walters returned to the scene of mad cow disease’s birth in rural England. The farmer who harbored the first discovered case confessed:
In retrospect, I’m appalled at what I didn’t know about my own cows. I didn’t know they were being fed other cows and sheep that had been ground into a powder. We’ve forced these hoofed grazers into cannibalism. On some farms they’re fed growth promotants, and that’s probably causing other problems. In many places in the world, livestock are kept in deplorable conditions, all for convenience and profit. We’ve put cows on an assembly line and we take them off at the other end and butcher them. Did we really think we could just rearrange the world in any way we pleased? Nobody could have wished for or foreseen this awful thing called BSE. But should we be all that surprised?1160