Judging from the response of the federal agriculture department to the discovery of a mad cow in Washington state, one might think the disease isn't all that bad. One might forget the federal reaction to the outbreak in Europe in the 1990s, when meat products from across the Atlantic were discontinued, because of how much of a threat the disease is.
In those days, one instance of mad cow was enough to get the federal government to blacklist a nation from our food supply. But now that it is coming from here, the diseased cattle doesn't seem so bad. Heck, we bet if a mad cow were right next to a U.S. agriculture official they would go right up to it and smooch it on the lips. At least that's how they would like us to think, now that mad cow has shown up at home.
The doozie part of the whole federal reaction is that it seems to be a small part of an overall pattern. When bad things happen you can count on some official from some federal agency or other, invariably the agency responsible for the cause of concern, to come forward and douse the flames of mass hysteria before they rise. Of course it's not really hysteria they are killing, but rational information to help the public make informed decisions.
Here are some examples that come to mind. There was the whole arsenic-in-the-water a few years back. Maybe you don't remember but the feds loosened restrictions on the level of arsenic in the drinking water. Apparently, arsenic isn't all that deadly an agent as we once thought, the feds said.
Then of course, there was the Envirtonmental Protection Agency's report on the air quality at ground zero. That report was made with as little alarmism as possible and workers were sent there every day to breathe in the qualified freshness. Trade Center debris whisked into the lungs isn't as bad as it seems, the feds said.
Who can forget the most recent power outage that left the entire Northeast lights out. The federal report came back and apparently there is no problem at all that requires fixing. What a relief - and here we thought a power grid described by experts as "Third World" might cause problems. Nope, the feds said.
The pattern becomes more clear when we consider the threats that have not been downplayed but driven home to the American public. Let's consider Saddam's weapons. How was that for hyped concern? The Iraqi dictator could kill Americans on a mass scale, the feds said.
Civil liberties. Now, those things can destroy the republic. The USA Patriot Act was passed to save us from ourselves. You are not a patriot if you like civil liberties, the feds said.
American citizens' right to a lawyer and trial could leave us defenseless, the feds would like us to believe.
A really good one that has come up lately is that trees are bad for forests. If one were to accept as fact federal reports, trees would have to be chopped down to save them from burning.
Now back to the cows. The feds are reporting back to the public that all is kosher with mad cow beef. Actually, even if you ate steak from a mad cow you wouldn't even get the human form of the disease. The disease only shows up in the spinal cord and brain of a cow, and we as humans don't eat those parts. Oh, then we guess mad cow should never have been an issue in the first place. Maybe we should eat all the mad cows. Well, that's not really that funny because there are some circles that believe we have eaten all the mad cows and that's why it has taken so long for us to detect the disease in our cattle.
Our practice of sending "downed" cows - cows so ill they can't walk - to slaughter and introducing them to the human and animal food supply has meant we haven't kept our sick animals to test for mad cow disease. We ate the evidence.
The misinformation being gathered in federal reports, with the seemingly deliberate task of pulling the wool over the public's eyes, is the worst practice a democracy can employ. Democracy is the best form of government because it is transparent and lays all of the cards on the table, that way everyone sees what we are dealing with, can discuss the issues informatively and design the best course of action to fix any problem.
If we address problems based on lies, then it is impossible to correct them.
If the pattern continues, we will certainly be living in a mad, mad, mad cow world.
Copyright 2003, Bennington Banner