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Jewish World Review
Jan. 12, 2004
/ 18 Teves, 5764
Holy Cow? Why there is no such thing as Meshuga Cow Disease
As America indeed, much of the Western world rushes to prevent further outbreaks of Mad Cow disease, Big Beef officials might spend a moment examining why there has yet to be a recorded instance of the malady inflicting the kosher meat supply.
Of all the food safety concerns raised by the discovery of
Mad Cow disease two weeks ago, perhaps none is more
focused than the questions about ground beef, the main
ingredient for hamburger, a staple of many an American's diet.
Hamburger meat from the infected cow actually made its way
into the distribution system before the Mad Cow diagnosis was
confirmed, prompting a hamburger meat recall in eight
Western states and the US territory of Guam.
As opposed to other cuts of meat which are generally identified
as to their source of origin on the cow, most non-kosher hamburger meat sold in this country is combined from several animals,
and different parts of those animals as well, some of
which are much safer than others, with regard to Mad Cow disease.
Scientists believe that the Mad Cow infection is harbored
in the cow's nervous system, which has led to requirements on
American meat plants to treat the brains and spinal cords of
all slaughtered animals as unfit for human consumption.
But there is still a problem, because cuts of meat taken
from near a cow's spinal column might still be contaminated
with nearby nerve tissue.
In terms of kosher cuts of meat, that
would include standing rib roast, chuck or round steaks, as
well as beef stock made from neck bones.
The risk is greater for those same cuts of meat from non-kosher
slaughterhouses, because many of them use advanced machinery
to take every piece of meat off the bone, right up to the
spinal column, increasing the likelihood of having Mad Cow
contaminated nerve tissue mixed in.
Also, once infected, it
doesn't matter how long the meat is cooked, because, unlike
other food contaminations, such as E coli the prions that
cause Mad Cow disease are not neutralized by cooking temperatures.
Irradiation, another widely used method to decontaminate
meat from other sources of infection, does not help make mad
cow contaminated meat any safer.
WAYS IN WHICH KOSHER MEAT IS SAFER
Buying kosher meat does seem to be safer with
regard to the Mad Cow threat. For starters, no downer cow too
sick to walk on its own power would ever be slaughtered.
According to Rabbi Shalom Fishbane, Kashrus (kosher) Administrator
for the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc), a "downer" cow is
referred to in Jewish legal literature as a mesukenes, and would not be acceptable,
according to current standards, as suitable for slaughtering.
until the newly announced US Department of Agriculture
(USDA) regulations forbidding it went into effect last week,
190,000 downer cows a year were slaughtered for their meat
and allowed to enter the distribution system, with the only proviso
being the removal of their brain and spinal column tissue.
Kosher slaughtered cows, in contrast, are generally too young to exhibit
Mad Cow symptoms, even if they have been exposed to the
disease. Kosher slaughterhouses typically use cows between
18-24 months old, whereas the symptoms of Mad Cow disease
do not generally appear until an infected cow is at least four or
five years old.
A LESSON ABOUT BEING INHUMANE
Another potential Mad Cow risk factor not present in
kosher slaughtered meat is the stunning of cows with a blow to
the head, a practice now banned by the new USDA regulations.
The fatal stunning blow to the animal's skull often winds splattering
potentially infected brain matter throughout the animal's
body, contaminating muscles and organs that would otherwise
not pose a danger of spreading the Mad Cow infection.
Rabbi Fishbane notes the irony in the fact that in European
countries where the legality of kosher slaughtered meat has been challenged,
the complaint against it has been that it is less humane than
stunning the cow. Now, it turns out that stunning cattle in non-kosher
slaughterhouses is a major health hazard in its own right.
However, Rabbi Fishbane observes that common practice in
kosher slaughterhouses further reduces the likelihood of mad
He says that feedlot cattle, those most susceptible to contracting
Mad Cow from contaminated feed, are generally less
healthy than pasture-raised, grass-fed beef, which are never
exposed to the Mad Cow threat. More of the healthier grass- fed
animals are therefore found to be kosher after slaughter than
feedlot raised cattle, by a ratio of about 2-1.
As a result, for
strictly commercial reasons, kosher slaughterhouses generally
prefer to use a higher percentage of the safer grass-fed beef
than non-kosher slaughterhouses do, further reducing the Mad Cow
risk to kosher consumers.
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Y. Elchonon is a reporter for Yated Ne'eman. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Yated Ne'eman