Warning: reading this riveting tale of good and evil will make you angry. After a few chapters, you will likely suffer from a deep sense of disillusionment and an uncontrollable urge to speak out or strike back. As this twisted and wicked pastoral unfolds, outrage after outrage, it will become increasingly clear that this is not just a tragic case of administrative bungling or faulty science on the part of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).
What we are confronted with in Mad Sheep is a government conspiracy. A politically inspired ritual of fabricated charges, manipulated science, and doctored evidence. A modern witch-hunt to sacrifice the innocent in order to protect the massive profits and scandalous practices of the guilty. A diabolically orchestrated, media-scripted search and destroy operation in the Vermont countryside, designed not just to murder some innocent sheep and thereby exorcize mounting consumer fears about food safety and mad cow disease, but also to turn us all into sheep, to fan the flames of fear and ignorance, and to foster our continued dependence on an abusive Big Brother government that has promised to protect us from the contemporary terrors that lurk, well, nearly everywhere.
In their highly acclaimed 1997 book, Mad Cow USA: Can the Nightmare Happen Here, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton recount how they used a Freedom of Information Act investigation to pry loose secret planning documents from the beef industry and the USDA. These liberated documents included a "crisis management" plan for how to manipulate public perceptions and concerns surrounding a likely outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States. A central part of this plan was to keep quiet about the fact that leading experts on mad cow disease, such as Dr. Clarence Gibbs and Dr. Richard Marsh, had warned government officials as early as 1989 that a form of mad cow disease was likely circulating in U.S. cattle herds, and that the extremely risky, profitable practice of feeding blood and slaughterhouse waste to animals needed to be halted immediately.
By the late 1990s, as scores of Europeans who had eaten contaminated beef from mad cows began dying from a fatal brain-wasting human disease called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), USDA officials began to implement their crisis management plan. As wary Americans began to learn about mad cow disease and animal cannibalism and cut back on their beef consumption, something had to be done to restore consumer confidence. Since stopping the feeding of animals to animals and ordering universal testing of cows for mad cow were deemed serious threats to industry profits, the USDA's public relations specialists came up with diversionary tactics: round up imported livestock across the country and harass family farmers like the Faillaces, all in the name of preventing mad cow disease in America.
Meanwhile the disinformation flacks at the USDA, aided by public relations firms and the news media, worked to sweep under the rug the alarming fact that U.S. corporate agribusiness was doing exactly the same thing that Europeans had been doing to spread mad cow disease‹feeding cattle, pigs, chickens, households pets, and deer and elk on game farms billions of pounds of blood, slaughterhouse waste, animal fat, and tainted manure every year.
The Faillace's sheep were absolutely healthy and presented no risk whatsoever to the American public. But the Clinton and Bush administrations wanted a scapegoat. Never mind that the imported sheep on the Faillace farm had been quarantined and certified by European Union authorities as having never consumed slaughterhouse waste. Never mind that these sheep had been tested for scrapie, so-called mad sheep disease, and found healthy. Never mind that a breed of imported sheep on the Faillace farm, East Friesians, has never in recorded history suffered from a single case of scrapie. Scrapie has been endemic in U.S. sheep herds for decades, and as Stauber and Rampton point out in Mad Cow USA, the USDA has done little or nothing to help U.S. sheep farmers eradicate the disease.
Blame Europe and a small group of stubborn Vermont sheep farmers for endangering public health, and maybe people wouldn't notice that American agribusiness had continued importing hundreds of millions of pounds of bargain-priced slaughterhouse waste from the UK for eight years after the outbreak of mad cow disease in 1989. Maybe people wouldn't notice that the 1997 FDA "feed ban" on feeding ruminants to ruminants is full of holes (allowing cattle blood, cattle fat, poultry manure and slaughterhouse waste from pigs and chickens to continue being fed to cows). Maybe consumers would forget that Europeans have boycotted U.S. non-organic beef and poultry‹routinely laced with antibiotics and hormones‹since 1988.
As for those farmers and consumers who won't behave like proper sheep, who refuse to shut up and swallow the official story: harass and threaten them, seize their animals, ruin their reputations, and destroy them financially and psychologically.
Linda and Larry Faillace, and their children, Jackie, Heather, and Francis, along with the Vermont consumer and farm activists who stood by them, are not only good shepherds, they are national heroes. USDA bureaucrats like Linda Detwiler, CDC bureaucrats like Lawrence Schonberger, indentured politicians, and their puppet masters behind the scenes‹the leaders of the corporate-industrial agriculture and pharmaceutical complex‹are the real offenders.
After campaigning in the trenches for thirteen years to get the USDA and FDA to stop the hazardous feeding of billions of pounds of blood, slaughterhouse waste, and manure every year to farm animals, and to require mandatory testing of cattle for mad cow disease at slaughter, I had lost or repressed some of my anger and frustrations. But then I read this book, and like post-combat stress, a flood of memories rushed back.
Hate mail arriving at my Washington office in 1993 along with a series of anonymous telephone death threats to my colleagues, just after we launched a national campaign against McDonald's and filed a legal petition to stop the feeding of animals to animals. A creepy ex-military intelligence agent provocateur who infiltrated our campaign and followed me around Washington, posing as a representative from the World Council of Churches. A private investigator in Wisconsin reporting that our office telephones were tapped, probably by the beef industry. A national news producer sheepishly apologizing to me for "alterations" in the script of a nationally televised ABC News story on mad cow disease that aired in 1997‹following what he described as a "call from the White House."
And more. Fruitlessly petitioning the Centers for Disease Control to make the human equivalent of mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt- Jacob Disease (CJD), an officially reportable disease. Petitioning the CDC, again in vain, to require autopsies for a significant number of the 50,000 Americans who die every year from Alzheimer's disease, to determine whether they actually had CJD (CJD is often mistakenly diagnosed as Alzheimer's, because its symptoms are similar). Watching the Bush administration USDA blame the Canadians for our first mad cow cases, and shortly thereafter threaten a Kansas meat packer, Creekstone Farms, for the "crime" of wanting to test all of their cows at slaughter for Mad Cow disease.
No wonder millions of Americans no longer trust the government or the media. No wonder millions of consumers are turning away from industrial meat and food and voting with their pocketbooks for healthy, sustainable, locally produced organic foods.
But voting with our consumer dollars is not enough. The mad sheep battle described in these pages is not an isolated case. Armed with $90 billion in taxpayer money each year, the USDA is waging war against all of us‹consumers, family farmers, farm animals, and the environment. The direct and collateral damage of this war includes rampant water, air, and food pollution; an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, obesity, and hormone disruption; pollution by genetically engineered crops; an unsustainable, massive venting of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases; pesticide and antibiotic contamination; proliferation of junk food; systematic exploitation of small farmers, farm workers, and slaughterhouse workers; and the dumping of millions of tons of subsidized crops and meat at below the cost of production on developing nations, thereby destroying the livelihoods of millions of small farmers and rural communities.
It's time to follow the example of the Faillace family. It's time to stand up and fight, not only for ourselves, but also for future generations.
Venceremos! We Shall Overcome!
Organic Consumers Association