This morning while I was doing my daily News Whoring on the web, I decided to do searches on Google, Yahoo, AOL, and a few other search sites for "mad cow disease facts"—and I noticed in several cases that one of the "sponsored links" that appeared was for something called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (see their web page at www.pcrm.org). From a brief glance at their site and the site of their supposed founder, Neal Barnard (www.nealbarnard.org), they've a decidedly reactionary and pro-vegetarian slant. The data they provide thus strikes me as suspect; it's framed from the perspective that all meat is bad, regardless of how it's raised, simply because it's meat.
Which is not to say that livestock conditions are universally golden and delightful. Quite to the contrary, I fully acknowledge that I'm one of the millions of Americans—the vast majority of us, I'm certain, since we're so much an urban society now—who give little or no thought to how the food that reaches our table is produced. My thoughts on the matter have always been, first and foremost, "I have to stop at the store on the way home tonight," or "Hmm, maybe I'll get take-out." The specific processes involved in raising, caring for, slaughtering, processing, shipping, and selling animal products has never specifically concerned me because I don't work in any field directly (or indirectly) related to food production, and I'm comfortable being part of a society that produces foodstuffs in such volume that the concerns about where our next meals will come from drop away from our day-to-day existence.
I also believe the USDA could be handling this mad-cow incident better, and in fact could (and should) have put in place more stringent preventive measures and inspection processes and so on to ensure the safety of the US food supply at every step from production to consumption. But I don't believe the USDA is trying only to protect the cattle-industry interests at the expense of citizens' safety, the way many pundits have claimed. They're trying to strike the best balance between the economic disaster that would befall the industries and the US population's need for confidence in an uninterrupted and safe food supply.