Friday, January 15, 2010

Chemistry On The Hoof

Salud, Salut, Gesund—As Long As You’re Healthy
by Mort Malkin
 
Chemistry On The Hoof
 
The reasons for not eating hamburgers in fast food establishments, or even greasy spoons, are many and varied. First, over 80% of US beef is treated with hormones while still on the hoof a short time before slaughter. Bovine growth hormone (BGH) makes for nice fat cows in quick order. To make doubly sure the animals wear enough weight, they are moved off the range and into feed lots to be beefed up for the slaughterhouse. In the feed lots, corn and soy mash is the soup de jour (and appetizer, entrée, and dessert). The grain and legume combination is high in protein and available in all-you-can-eat quantities to increase the weight of their steaks and chops. No more delicate grasses, Bossy.
 
A further advantage of the corn/soy-fed beef is that the animal feed is mostly genetically engineered. The Black Angus, of course have no First Amendment rights and rarely take to the streets to demonstrate against such artifice. There will be no mass protests in Chicago .
 
Another concern, beyond hormones and GE feed, is the beasts’ reaction to fright and fear and the resulting chemical changes in their bodies. The noise, the smells, the lines of animals being coerced toward the slaymaster all must evoke extreme anxiety, fear, panic and, soon enough, depression. We all know how rotten we feel when subjected to such stress as misplaced car keys or too many choices on someone’s automated answering tape. The brain contains over 30 different neurotransmitters: acetyl choline, serotonin, dopamine, nor epinephrine ... all in various states of balance. Their interactions determine our mood, our energy level, our blood pressure and heart rate, and whether we are ready for fight & flight or rest & repair.  The chemicals float around not only the brain but the rest of the body, too. The meat of stressed animals can’t be as nutritious, or tasty, as from a calm one.
 
A neighbor-friend, aware of these chemical changes, follows his own strict hunting guidelines. He is careful to be downwind of the deer, and he waits till he gets a clean shot at the animal’s head. No time for the deer to be taken by any negative thoughts and emotions. Hunters whose prime aim is a trophy don’t give the body chemistry of the deer a second thought. A buck’s antlers are not much changed by adrenergic chemistry. The only worry my hunting friend has is that the deer that will provide him with many meals over the winter may have been browsing on the lawns of neighbors who use herbicides to suppress the growth of dandelions and other weeds. Herbicides such as 2,4D (dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) are toxic to fish and frogs and irritant to humans. Back in the 60s and early 70s, an herbicide called Agent Orange was used on the broadleaf foliage of the Ho Chi Minh trail. It, too, was supposed to be only irritant to human eyes and skin. My hunter friend says the saving grace is that the fertilizer-weed killer is applied in the spring, and hunting season waits till the late fall and winter. Of course, the weed problem and the dietary habits of the deer are amenable to other, less toxic solutions. That will be worth an essay of its own.
 
The last matter the beefeaters and deerslayers might be apprehensive about is wasting disease – mad cow disease and mad deer syndrome. It is not an infection in the sense of bacteria or viruses causing encephalitis or meningitis. Rather, the condition involves rogue proteins called prions that form inventive abstract sculptural shapes in the gray matter. It may occur in cows, deer, elk, mink, and people. In humans it is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. An English friend tells of many cases of mad cow disease and several cases of vCJD in Great Britain in the 90s. Millions of cows had to be destroyed. In the US, only a few proven mad cows were found, but “downer” cattle are common. Mad elk and deer disease, moreover, became common in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Mad deer syndrome in Wisconsin erupted into political contention between the DNR and hunters. It was reported that thousands of deer in one county had to be destroyed. Official counsel in various other areas of the state reporting only sporadic cases advised hunters who were concerned about wasting disease to donate the deer they killed to food pantries. Shame in spades.
 
Various establishment agencies and organizations – the USDA, states issuing hunting licenses, and Big Beef – were scared to death of finding any cases of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE). Though the testing technology quickly became simpler and the results more certain, they tested only a tiny sampling under their respective jurisdictions. Feed lots avoided testing “downer” cows even though the steer exhibited one of the cardinal signs of BSE. States that derived considerable revenues from selling hunting licenses tested deer and elk taken in areas where wasting disease had been identified but rarely in others. In contrast, Japan tested every single cow destined for human consumption in the Land Of The Rising Sun.
 
With all the reasons to eschew meat in our diets, must we conclude that the American way of life is under threat? The vegetarians are surely gloating just a little.
 

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