- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

Mad over mad cow

In Wednesday’s story “U.S. will keep mad cow tests that take days” (Nation), the Department of Agriculture is reported as saying that the more modern rapid tests for mad cow disease used in Europe and Japan are less reliable than those used in the United States and could produce “false alarms.”

While this may have been a problem with earlier tests, mad cow tests are on the market that have tested more than 15 million cattle samples worldwide without a single reported false alarm (false positive). These new rapid tests could enable the United States to process thousands of carcasses a day before they end up on anyone’s dinner plate.

The government’s decision finally to remove “downer” cattle from the human food supply can be effective in protecting the public only in conjunction with a dramatic increase in surveillance testing. In Japan, where 100 percent of all cattle bound for human consumption is tested, a number of cases of mad cow disease have been found in animals that appeared perfectly healthy. The cost of universally testing every cow destined for slaughter has been estimated as adding but a few cents per pound to the cost of meat.

Until the Department of Agriculture adopts the World Health Organization’s recommendations for increased mad cow testing, our most prudent New Year’s dietary resolution is to go vegetarian.

ALEX HERSHAFT

Bethesda

• • •

Publishing Michael Greger’s column “Mad cow disease” (Op-Ed, Friday) was a poor decision on the part of The Washington Times. Dr. Greger’s opinion, wholly unsupported by science, only serves to scare people and harm the beef industry. The Times staff should do a little research before lending credence to false claims and innuendos proffered by a well-meaning but off-the-mark “expert” in the study of mad cow disease. The Times’ only salvation comes from the fact that it did publish the article on an opinion page. Hopefully, readers kept that in mind when they read the frightening words of Dr. Greger.

What Dr. Greger reported is all theory. There is not one shred of scientific evidence linking mad cow disease to new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Dr. Greger cited the deaths that occurred in Europe after an outbreak of mad cow disease in an attempt to make the link, but he doesn’t explain why just 152 people died, when hundreds of millions of Europeans consumed million of pounds of infected British beef before mad cow disease was blamed. The fact is that scientists had no other explanation for the deaths, so they “defaulted” to mad cow disease as the likely cause.

The prion theory being promoted by Dr. Greger and others fails to rise to the level of credibility when faced with a scientific test known as Koch’s postulates. There are four criteria that must be satisfied in the laboratory before a valid cause-and-effect relationship can be shown between prions and mad cow disease:

First, prions must be present in every case of mad cow disease. Second, prions must be isolated from a diseased cow and grown in the laboratory in pure culture. Third, mad cow disease must be reproduced when these cultured prions are injected into a healthy cow. Fourth, prions must be recovered from the healthy cow after injection. So far, the prion-mad-cow theory is 0 for 4. Making this theory even less likely is the fact that prions of any kind have not been shown to be infective.

Worst of all, though, is that this theory has taken root in the National Institutes of Health, where research on prions is being funded to the tune of $27 million, while no other course of scientific inquiry to discover the real cause of mad cow disease is being pursued seriously.

Dr. Greger did a good job of scaring people away from eating beef, but the theory he espouses is fatally flawed and should not cause us to change our eating habits.

RICHARD W. RESSLER

North Olmsted, Ohio

Misdiagnosis

I am compelled to respond to Georgie Anne Geyer’s Commentary column “Redesigned image” (Wednesday), wherein she criticizes President Bush’s foreign policy — the so-called “Bush doctrine” of pre-emptive warfare — and predicts that it will lead to “an entirely different American reality.” Unfortunately, Miss Geyer’s critique is laden with several misdiagnoses, inaccuracies and false presumptions.

First, Miss Geyer fails to comprehend the implications of our being attacked on September 11 in a manner that hadn’t occurred since December 7, 1941. By definition, this forced us into a new foreign-policy-warfare paradigm whether we liked it or not. The obvious analogy is World War II, and not merely because there were comparable attacks on American soil. American foreign policy in the 1930s was — to say the least — detached (and the appeasement of the Western European powers inept), and regardless of the reasons for this, it led to policy and intelligence miscues. If not for those miscues, Pearl Harbor could have been avoided. Needless to say, we likely still would have gone to war, but it could have been a less global and cataclysmic one than occurred.

Similarly, the Clinton administration’s negligent foreign, security and military policies during the 1990s, even after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, produced a zombielike trance vis-a-vis the global radical Islamic threat that culminated in the September 11 attacks. Contrary to Miss Geyer’s assertion that “everything changed” when we struck in Iraq, the transformation in our policies was triggered on September 11. This is when everything changed. Under Miss Geyer’s definition, our relationship with Japan did not change with the Pearl Harbor attack, but only with the Doolittle raid a few months later. We no more “shucked away all the rules of combat, all the rules of war, all the international structures” with our Iraq attack than we did with our then-revolutionary Doolittle raid and subsequent take-it-to-the-Japanese war in the Pacific Ocean.

Second, we have neither embarked on a “go-it-alone unilateralism” nor “deliberately antagonized old allies, such as France and Germany.” The United Kingdom, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Australia and Japan, among others, are with us in this battle. So what if we don’t have “old Europe” with us? We are in a new era now, and that means new allies, as has always occurred throughout history from time to time.

Miss Geyer has fallen prey to Benjamin Disraeli’s admonition that “a precedent embalms a principle.” Furthermore, she has it backward when she claims we antagonized France and Germany; in fact, they had been antagonizing us for years by refusing to cut their economic ties with terrorist regimes. Their failure to join us in our fight against global terrorism — even after we were attacked — not only was bad policy, but also reflected an extreme lack of reciprocity of our benevolence to them in their times of need. Indeed, but for America, France would be speaking German now, and Germany would be speaking Russian.

Third, since when has it ever been our policy not to counterattack after having been attacked? Yes, we will “strike wherever needed for our singular defense in the world,” as we did in World War II. Moreover, our attack-driven response reflects no desire to switch from “leading” the world to “dominating” it. It merely exhibits an acknowledgment that we have a new security threat — it is no longer global communism, but global Islamic terrorism (though they’re cousins) — and that clearly calls for a shift in policy and allies, if needed. Lord Palmerston’s succinct and accurate description of his country’s foreign policy — that England has no permanent friends, only permanent interests — was a wise admonition for the 19th century’s sole global superpower. That same realistic attitude must be applied to our foreign policy in the 21st century.

Fourth and finally, the notion that a neoconservative cabal is leading our shift in doctrine is a media myth that makes good copy but ignores reality. Again, we were attacked. Thus, our policy switch is not designed to pursue a neocon-Wilsonian vision to make the world “safe for democracy.” This may be the vision of hard-core neocons such as William Kristol of the Weekly Standard and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations. Fortunately, they will be disappointed, because even the United States lacks the resources, will and desire to force democracy or the American way of life down anyone’s throat. Our goal is merely to destroy the ability of the global Islamic terrorist network to pose a serious threat to our homeland and vital interests abroad, including economic ones. This requires “taking the fight to the enemy,” as Mr. Bush once put it.

Change is always difficult — for individuals and society — and often personal and national policy is born of habit. Adapt or die, as they say in the Silicon Valley. I suggest that Miss Geyer — and the Democratic left — awake from the Cold War time warp.

ROB BRANTLEY

Alexandria

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