This week, after putting out a tasteless news release announcing
that a “mad cow” was going to attack a federal building in Oklahoma, PETA’s
demonstration about mad cow disease was thwarted when an important prop
got lost in shipping. The protest called for a person in a cow suit to
hit a six foot foam rubber brain with a baseball bat. Only half the brain
arrived in Tulsa. No doubt AMP News readers will come up with a fitting
closing line to this tale…
The Associated Press recently
ran a long profile of the Texas cattlemen who have the dubious distinction
of spending large amounts of money in an effort to keep alive a lawsuit
against Oprah Winfrey for disparaging remarks she said about beef on her
show several years ago. Winfrey already successfully defended herself
in a civil lawsuit brought by the cattleman, that in this writer’s opinion
made the Texas beef industry look very bad. Winfrey may show poor judgment
in relying on someone as unreliable as Howard Lyman for dietary advice,
but the same right to free speech that lets the industry and others show
the animal rights claims are nonsense also protects those who hold other
According to the Associated
Press story, the cattlemen have spent close to $6 million pursuing the
case against Winfrey – currently they are appealing the result of the
civil trial on several grounds – and are willing to spend even more get
a court to hold Winfrey liable for her comments.
Charles Babcock, an attorney
for Winfrey, says that he does not see Winfrey giving in any time soon
either. “We feel this is a meritless lawsuit,” Babcock said.
“A jury decided it is a meritless lawsuit. The court of public opinion
says it is without merit. The trial judge said it is without merit. We
think the court of appeals will agree, but if not, we’re ready to go do
The whole business carries
a lot of the stench associated with the |McDonald’s| lawsuit against activists
who passed out pamphlets in the United Kingdom accusing McDonald’s of
doing everything from producing food that caused cancer to destroying
the environment. Under British libel laws that heavily favor plaintiffs,
the so-called “McLibel” case became the longest running trial
in British history and when it was all said and done McDonald’s won an
award for a paltry $96,000.
Like the McDonald’s lawsuit,
the cattlemen’s obsessive pursuit of Oprah Winfrey is the sort of intimidation
tactic I would expect to see from animal rights activists.
Can the cattle industry ever live
down the Oprah Winfrey lawsuit? An Associated Press story recently noted
that the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has set up
a hotline for people in the beef industry to call if they hear people
disparaging beef. As the organization’s spokesman Rob Hosford put it,
If we hear XYZ radio station carrying something about the
beef industry, procedures and products that is derogatory, unfounded
and untrue, with this task force we will send someone over there to
re-educate, so the next time they talk they’ll be talking form the right
side of the ballpark.
The hotline was apparently
inspired by the ongoing controversy in Texas over a billboard People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals put
up to promote its “Jesus was a vegetarian campaign.” Bruce Friedrich,
who coordinates that campaign, said the hotline was a sign of desperation.
“Clearly, they are running scared,” Friederich told the Associated
Press. “All the propaganda in the world can’t sanitize their product.”
The Associated Press report noted that the
hotline was set up a year after the infamous Amarillo trial of Oprah Winfrey
for allegedly defaming the beef industry after she proclaimed she would
no longer eat beef because of the risk of Mad Cow Disease.
Although I rarely agree with
Friedrich about anything, he is correct that many people might see the
setting up of the hotline as the cattle industry running scared. The ill-advised
(to be blunt it was idiotic) prosecution of Winfrey dealt a serious blow
to the credibility of the beef industry. All it accomplished was giving
the animal rights activists ammunition to use in their campaign against
the industry. As Friedrich himself wrote in a recent essay, those who
agree with the animal rights position are a very tiny minority. They will
almost certainly remain so unless animal industries make them into sympathetic
victims, which is precisely what the Winfrey trial did.
Despite the efforts of animal
rights activists such as Howard Lyman to keep it going, the Mad Cow Disease hysteria continues to recede. The European Commission is currently studying
a proposal to lift its ban on British beef which most observers expect
to occur by the autumn of 1998.
The EC banned British beef in March
1996 after the British government linked bovine spongiform enceophalopathy
(BSE) to a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
Two years later, Great Britain
has gone to extraordinary lengths to remove BSE-infected cattle from its
food supply, and the link between BSE and CJD grows ever more suspect.
There never was much more than
speculation and inference behind the alleged connection between the two
diseases. There hasn’t yet been a single verified case of an individual
eating meat from a BSE-infected animal and subsequently contracting any
form of CJD. In addition, so far there is no evidence that the prion believed
to be the cause of BSE exists in the muscle tissue of cows — so far it
has been found only in the brains of the animals.
In fact the sixth annual report
by the UK’s National CJD Surveillance Unit reported that rates of CJD
in Great Britain are consistent with CJD rates in other countries around
the world, including those that are free of BSE. Unlike some animal rights
extremists, the CJD Surveillance report does not rule out the possibility
that the rise in CJD cases in the UK is due to improvements in diagnoses
techniques, concluding, “It is impossible to say with certainty to
what extent these changes reflect an improvement in case ascertainment
and to what extent, if any, changes in incidence.”
“Cretuzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance in the UK, 6th report,” The
National CJD Surveillance Unit, 1997.
David Evans, “Mainland British beef exports ban could be lifted,”
Reuters News Service, June 10, 1998.