Nothing could better illustrate the real level of humanity of governments in the north and their corporate agribiz:
"And what about the next surprise that staggers out of our crowded barns? We need to be more wary of new diseases, and we need agencies with the power and the backbone to enforce precautionary measures. This idea is unlikely to go down well with the World Trade Organization. But BSE should have taught us that, in the end, the price of anything less will be too high." - New Scientist
The madness spreads
Hungry children around the world could bear the brunt of BSE
MAD COW scandals just don't stop. In a week when Britain recorded six new cases of vCJD, the biggest real monthly increase so far, it has become clear that it has almost certainly inflicted this curse on the rest of the world.
Britain continued to export animal feed made from the ground-up remains of infected cattle long after it knew that the pellets spread BSE to other cattle. The rest of the European Union, which caught BSE from Britain, was still exporting it until last month. Now the likes of Indonesia and Thailand face a disease that even the richest countries can barely afford to control (see p 10).
Britain insists that the feed was meant only for pigs and chickens. Importers and farmers in Europe might have known not to give the feed to
cattle, but you can bet this message didn't reach farmers in South-East Asia.
It seems incredible. In 1990, Britain declared that the most infectious organs had to be removed from cattle carcasses destined for feed in the EU. Yet for feed sold elsewhere, this rule was not brought in for another year. Did nobody think of the consequences of sending this stuff to farmers in the developing world? Even restricting the feed to pigs and chickens may not be safe. These animals too end up in cattle feed, and could pass the infection on.
The newly industrialising nations that bought the tainted feed all have booming livestock industries, and rendering plants that will recycle the
infection in feed for local consumption and export. What's a poor country to do? Germany plans to throw 400,000 cattle onto the scrap heap. Can a country where the children are going short of protein afford to do that?
Despite the current worries in Britain and across Europe, the greatest damage will not be from vCJD. Unless the disease turns out to be extremely widespread, it will barely show up beside malnutrition, malaria and AIDS. The real harm will be to food production. Carcasses are cheap protein, and if BSE means poor countries can't use them for fodder, they
will not be able to produce as much of the meat and milk their people crave.
In a world dominated by trade, rich countries will force the poor to take draconian measures against BSE--or refuse to buy their meat, as North America is doing to Brazil. The poor will lose industries, jobs and income. So some will hide their mad cows, and the plague will continue.
Britain and other rich countries that exported contaminated feed need to pay now for tests to identify which importers' cattle are infected. Besides the moral responsibility, this could help head off some of the legal action that is already starting against Britain as the source of BSE.
And what about the next surprise that staggers out of our crowded barns?
We need to be more wary of new diseases, and we need agencies with the power and the backbone to enforce precautionary measures. This idea is unlikely to go down well with the World Trade Organization. But BSE should have taught us that, in the end, the price of anything less will be too high.