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> Where's the beef?, BSE - old news, or a current problem?
Julian
post Oct 18 2005, 02:12 PM
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BBC News Analysis

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with tens of thousands of refugees effectively living rough in sports halls and conference centres around the south eastern USA, the British government sent several million pounds' worth of British army food ration packs to the USA, for use by the refugees.

Only a few of these ration packs were distributed, and the rest were recalled, and have been kept in cold storage (at US public expense) ever since. This is ostensibly because many of the meal packs contain British beef, which (since the BSE crisis of the 80s and 90s) has been banned for use or sale in the USA.

Most other countries now regard British beef as safe, and British farmers, butchers, and beef exporters would argue that the inspection regime implemented in Britain since the worst of the BSE crisis now means that British beef is rather less likely to be dangerous than that from many other countries - including the USA itself - that have discovered isolated cases of BSE (and often tried to blame them on animals imported from Britain, so they don't face trade sanctions themselves. Mine's a burger. sour.gif ). Also, despite predictions of casualty rates in the tens or hundreds of thousands in Britain alone dying from the human form of the disease (vCJD) the count is still only 142 identified sufferers.

To their credit, the US government is attempting to negotiate a transfer of the rations to a country where the food can be eaten. But the fact that they are happy to pass the food onto someone else somewhat undermines the case for continuing the ban on British beef, unless we are to believe that the USA actively wants needy foreigners to get vCJD and turn into drooling vegetables.

NB The Kashmiri earthquake is not a suitable choice, since none of the meat used (beef or otherwise) is halal, and some contains pork, so it would not be eaten by the (mostly Muslim) victims in Pakistan and India.

And, regardless of food safety issues, the federal government was in a cleft stick. Either they waive their ban on British beef, and (however irrationally, given the low risk) are accused by their domestic critics of giving refugees food that they don't allow anyone else to eat. Or, they decide they can't use the food and store it, and are accused by domestic critics of bureacratic inefficiency and disorganisation (as has been the case).

So I have two distinct types of question :

Should the US government review it's ban of British beef, especially in the light of the less rigorous testing, slaughtering and feed regulation regime for US domestic beef than the one which applies in the EU?

and, the more important aspect, with it's points of principle:

Who is more at fault here - the British government, for assuming that the US would waive long-standing trade barriers to British beef because of a state of emergency, or the USA for accepting food rations they knew they couldn't use?

Should aid recipients be grateful for whatever they get, regardless of whether they can use it or not?

Or should donors think more carefully about they needs of the people on the ground to make sure that their efforts actually help?


This post has been edited by Julian: Oct 18 2005, 02:18 PM
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Victoria Silverw...
post Oct 19 2005, 03:46 AM
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Here's another article about this situation, for those of us who are blocked from connecting to the BBC (The world's finest news agency):

Link

On a purely rational level, there seems to be good evidence that British beef is somewhat safer to eat than American beef. (Both are probably quite safe.) However, there is an important emotional reason why the ban on British beef will be difficult to lift. BSE is an absolutely terrifying disease. If the FDA can make Americans feel safer by ensuring that they consume Good Pure American Beef instead of Filthy Foreign Beef, they will continue to do so.

(It's interesting to note that the USA and Japan also continue to do battle over this issue:)

Link

So, yes, a review of US policy would be in order.

As for who is at fault in the Katrina situation, well, I tend to blame it on a lack of communication on both sides.

Should people in an emergency situation be "grateful" for emergency rations that would not normally be allowed for human consumption? Well, I suppose so, if it is a matter of life and death, and the health risk is low. I do not eat meat, but if I were starving, I would be grateful for whatever I could get. On the other hand, I think that a case could be made that starving people have a right to resent not being allowed to have this food, if they are willing to take the risk.

I'm sure that the intent of the UK was strictly humanitarian, and I thank them for it. I'm sure that the US effort to send this beef to Guatemala is also based entirely on good intentions, although it may look a little bad in some headlines. "USA Dumps Unsafe Meat In Third World Nations" or some such.

Of course, all donors should think very carefully about the best way to distribute aid, in all emergency situations. There are no Bad Guys in this scenario, just a somewhat fumbled effort to do good.

This post has been edited by Victoria Silverwolf: Oct 19 2005, 03:48 AM
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Amlord
post Oct 19 2005, 12:42 PM
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The refugees of Katrina are not going hungry, so while it was a nice gesture for the Brits to send the rations, it wasn't absolutely necessary. There was no emergency involved in feeding these people and thus no real reason to lift the ban for this one instance.

On to the larger issue: the ban itself. As with many things, the ban is more an attempt to make people feel better than to actually protect their health. The FDA does this all the time, it isn't something new. Add to that the fact that once a federal bureaucracy makes a decision, it is loathe to go back and change it.

I am reasonable confident that British beef is just fine.

Should the US government review it's ban of British beef, especially in the light of the less rigorous testing, slaughtering and feed regulation regime for US domestic beef than the one which applies in the EU?

All such policies should be reviewed after a period of time. However, it isn't a huge pressing issue because the Brits never really imported much beef to the US.

Who is more at fault here - the British government, for assuming that the US would waive long-standing trade barriers to British beef because of a state of emergency, or the USA for accepting food rations they knew they couldn't use?

I think Julian is running for a US political position: Chief finger-pointer. No one needs to be "at fault" here. Believe it or not, there are people (including government officials) who are not familiar with every US trade restriction, international treaty, or other piece of legal mumbo jumbo the government has come up with. It was probably accepted by a FEMA official and later found to be unusable by US standards. No one to blame. You certainly cannot blame the Brits for offering and there isn't really blame on the US side either.

Should aid recipients be grateful for whatever they get, regardless of whether they can use it or not?

Of course. You didn't tell Aunt Doris how much you hate her fruit cake every Christmas, do you? You just throw it away and forget the whole event.

Or should donors think more carefully about they needs of the people on the ground to make sure that their efforts actually help?

Not sure about the "or" here... hmmm.gif

Donors should not really be focussing on specific needs unless a list of specific needs is sent out. Had FEMA said : we have enough food, but we could use blankets, clothing, etc. then you don't send food. Otherwise, whatever is within the power of the donor should be appreciated.
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Logicist
post Oct 20 2005, 07:40 PM
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1. Yes, the United States government probably should review it's ban on British beef. Correct me if I'm wrong, but BSE is only transmitted through spinal and brain fluids, therefore an overarching ban on beef is inappropriate. The only likely carrier (which is highly unlikely anyways) of BSE would be sausage. Cuts of beef, like roasts and steaks, wouldn't be affected. The ban appears to be more of an emotionally response then a rational one, especially considering how long it has gone on for.

2. I wonder if the Brits, by offering the US beef based MREs, weren't trying to get a precedent to try and get the banned lifted. Maybe I'm just cynical, but I find it hard to believe that of the dozens of people needed to organize the sending over of thousands of meals, that one of them wouldn't remember the ban. To make a horribly overstated analogy, it would be like sending pork meals to Pakistan right now. Someone would remember. Same goes for the Americans, they probably didn't want to be seen rejecting aid.

3. Good friends should be able to tell each how they feel. I told my grandmother to stop sending me cinnamon buns. It saves both sides time and money.

4. Of course you should send what is requested, or what you think is best suited. Otherwise it's an empty gesture, which in the end, impresses no one.
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Ultimatejoe
post Oct 20 2005, 07:47 PM
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One element rarely discussed is the incredibly powerful rancher's lobby in the United States. R-CALF has fought numerous battles to keep the U.S.-Canada border closed, and they are supported by six of the midwestern states.

I really hate doing this... but google isn't helping me out. I also read in a newspaper recently that a small group of Republicans (a few very vocal senators) supported by the same lobby are making it very hard for the White House and Senate to open American markets to beef from Britain/Canada/Japan. If someone could confirm that it would be great. I will keep looking.
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Lesly
post Oct 20 2005, 07:59 PM
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This may help.

Japan:

QUOTE
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kobe beef should stay off U.S. menus if Japan won't buy American beef, the Senate has decided.

Senators retaliated Tuesday against Japan for refusing to lift a mad cow-related ban on U.S. beef. On a 72-26 vote, the Senate adopted an amendment prohibiting importation of Japanese beef until Japan lifts its ban.

Japan's stalling is unfair, said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, who offered the amendment.

"There have been two cases of mad cow disease in the United States, one from Canada," Nelson said in a Senate speech. "Statistically, it's nonexistent, in terms of the millions of head of cattle that are sent to slaughter every year."

[...]

Once the biggest customer of American beef, importing more than $1.5 billion worth in 2003, Japan has refused to allow the purchase of U.S. beef since the nation's first case of mad cow disease was confirmed in Washington state almost two years ago. Japan agreed last fall to lift the ban but still hasn't done so.

- Senate votes to continue ban on Japanese beef


Canada:

QUOTE
EDMONTON (CP) - An American ranchers group just won't give up its fight against Canadian beef.

R-CALF USA said Monday it will head back to court only days after it lost its challenge of a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that allowed young cattle exports from Canada to the United States to resume. And R-CALF's plan will up the ante.

The protectionist group wants the federal District Court in Montana to scrap the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that reopened the border to cattle and boxed cuts of Canadian beef.

"Hopefully, we will prevail in our efforts to protect the U.S. cattle industry and U.S. consumers from the unnecessary and avoidable disease risks associated with Canadian cattle," R-CALF president Leo McDonnell said in a release.

- American ranchers group to resume legal challenge against Canadian beef


The irony being following the revelation that Canada had a case of mad cow disease the U.S. banned Canadian beef almost immediately out of health concerns. Canadians called it protectionism. The Japanese ban cites the same concern and we call it protectionism.

This post has been edited by Lesly: Oct 20 2005, 08:09 PM
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Julian
post Oct 21 2005, 08:58 AM
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It's worth mentioning here that the EU has a long-standing ban on American beef imports that predates the incidence of BSE in cattle.

The EU ban is based on the widepread use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs used as growth promoters. I've heard it described that in a US steakhouse, the height of quality is considered to be when a steak melts in the mouth "like butter". In the EU, that's considered a bit odd; even in a blue steak meat is supposed to have some texture. And, the effect can only be acheived by pumping the cattle full of the kind of chemical additives that are banned in the EU (on human, not animal, health grounds).

But so far this thread has concentrated more on the beef ban, and less on the general point of charitable donation.

Should aid recipients be grateful for whatever they get, regardless of whether they can use it or not?

Or should donors think more carefully about they needs of the people on the ground to make sure that their efforts actually help?
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quarkhead
post Oct 21 2005, 05:38 PM
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Should aid recipients be grateful for whatever they get, regardless of whether they can use it or not?

Grateful? I don't know. That's such a subjective word. If I am starving, should I be grateful if an aid group gives me a Bible and a wooden toy? Should a bunch of starving Hindus be grateful that an aid organization gives them a bunch of beef MREs? Perhaps one can be grateful that people are doing something, but still wish they had the sense to do the right thing.

Should the US government review it's ban of British beef, especially in the light of the less rigorous testing, slaughtering and feed regulation regime for US domestic beef than the one which applies in the EU?

Indeed. But as others have pointed out, the beef industry is a mighty powerful lobby. The US government has very relaxed regulations for the beef industry. I recommend Fast Food Nation; Schlosser describes this in detail. One of the scariest bits is the relaxation of inspections of the cattle - to the point that inspectors make only visual judgements, rather than exhaustive or even cursory toxicological exams. Scariest of all, the school lunch program gets some of the worst beef in America.

Who is more at fault here - the British government, for assuming that the US would waive long-standing trade barriers to British beef because of a state of emergency, or the USA for accepting food rations they knew they couldn't use?

Both. The British should know better than to assume anything with the US. And the US, if it was going to say no, should have actually said so, instead of wasting more tax dollars on storing the food.

Or should donors think more carefully about they needs of the people on the ground to make sure that their efforts actually help?

One of the most successful (though small scale, relatively) aid groups in the world is the Mennonite Central Committee's aid program. Their representatives (my uncle has been one in Africa for years) tour refugee camps, and report back to MCC exactly what sort of aid is needed. This model should be used for all aid groups. Get people on the ground first, find out exactly what is needed, then send it.
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