Checking the news for information on Mad Cow Disease in general and the suspected case turned up near Yakima, WA, is a pretty fruitless pursuit. You’re likely to find articles like the one in Slate cited by Prof. Bainbridge (via Instapundit) sensationalizing feedlots and urging you to a vegetarian diet, and that would be a mistake. So let’s collect some of the facts, just to be ornery.
In the first place, this Holstein cow isn’t an example of feedlot beef, good or bad. It was a worn-out, 4 1/2 yr. old dairy cow sold to slaughter along with 19 compadres because it wasn’t producing as much milk as the dairy farmer wanted. Your clues to that are the breed — Holstein’s are dairy cattle, not beef cattle — the sex — beef cattle are steers, not cows — the location — beef cattle aren’t raised on dairy farms — and the age — beef cattle are slaughtered at 18 months of age, more or less, and this cow was 4 1/2 yrs. old. It was most likely infected 4 years ago, when it was a calf, and probably by a milk substitute containing tallow it was fed to wean it off the profitable mother’s milk.
Worn-out dairy cows don’t get slaughtered for the steaks you’re going to buy at a restaurant, you can’t buy their meat at Safeway, and you can’t buy hamburgers at McDonald’s or Burgerville made out of them. Their meat goes into processed foods like bologna, sausages, and dog food.
If you want to worry about the contamination of the food supply, consider that this infected cow produced milk for the last four years, and you stand a better chance of catching mad cow from milk than you do from beef, although the evidence is pretty slim in either of these scenarios.
If we’re going to enact major policy changes to prevent further outbreaks of Mad Cow, the places to start would be in stricter standards for milk substitutes, a ban on selling old milk cows for human consumption, and more comprehensive testing. The thing you can do for yourself if you’re worried about tainted beef is to buy grass-fed beef from hippie ranchers, like I do, most recently from a rancher outside Eugene, OR.
Other than that, you might want to limit your milk consumption, but you should do that anyway if you’re over 2.