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According to the FDA and USDA, there are no known cases of BSE in the USA, and this book attempts to prey on people's fears to the contrary. Even the European scare arguably was overblown (since no clear nexus between rendering and BSE has ever been found, and some of the victims of BSE were too young to have been affected by prions).
But, you can believe what you want to believe, and some people believe in Roswell aliens...
So what's this got to do with hamburgers? "Rendering" is the innocuous term for the practice of grinding up left-over animal organs, tissues, spinal cords etc that are considered unfit for human consumption, then selling it as Meat & Bone Meal (MBM) or Tallow. Agribusinesses use MBM as cattle and pig food and fertilizer (like on vegetables...); tallow has many uses including in the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries. Rendering is cow cannibalism, as it were, which is believed to have amplified the incidence of BSE in Britain, just as cannibalism amplified kuru in New Guinea. If you have never heard of rendering then you need to read this book. The British experience of CJD should have been a lesson to US politicians, bureacrats, cattlemen, and the FDA, because the "new variant" of CJD that has killed numerous British persons is actually a prion disease derived from the BSE prion, that is, from cattle. That is, people have died from from eating prion-infected beef.
It is also worth noting that CWD, or Chronic Wasting Disease, is another prion disease currently becoming a major health problem in wild cervids (deer, elk and so on)--and potentially in the people who hunt and eat them. Large, prion-infected deer populations have been reported in several states, including Wisconsin and Colorado. As of today (14 July 2002), Wisconsin opened deer season several months early & intends to keep it open all year, in order to decimate a population of 25,000 prion-infected deer. Guess what? The NBC news report did not mention that CWD is a prion disease related to BSE, probably because they didn't know (& didn't bother finding out). But guess what else? Prions rather easily jump species boundaries: mink to cattle, cattle to human, squirrel to human....Once opened, its a real Pandora's box that sets one's mind to wandering.
[To really be in the know, try a Web search on "cattle rendering" and read what you find. It's enough to make you sick. Cow and pig tissues are widely used in the pharmaceutical industry and in many products intended indirectly for human consumption: hog feed, chicken feed. It is also used in pet food--to think that even my cats might be eating this stuff. There was also a report of a British vegan--a *vegan*, mind you, for a dozen years--who inadvertently got CJD from her pet cat food.]
Despite the flambuoyant title, this is a well-researched and closely reasoned book. It is also well-written and an exciting read. The frightening thing is how unknown these dangers are... This may or may not be the final word on the subject (an update on progress since 1997 would be nice), but it is certainly an eye-opener. If you don't do anything else, read the quote from Nobel laureate Carleton Gadjusek on page 218 (Gadjusek solved the Kuru mystery). In my opinion, the broad public health and policy implications of prion diseases and the practice of rendering make this book a must-read for every informed citizen.