[Marxism] An unlikely "Mad Cow" activist

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 3 07:15:29 MST 2004

NY Times, February 3, 2004
Man Who Killed the Mad Cow Has Questions of His Own

Shooting a cow turned Dave Louthan into a crusader.

On Dec. 9, at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Moses Lake, Wash., Mr. Louthan 
killed the only mad cow found in the United States.

Two weeks later, he says, he was dismissed after four years as Vern's 
slaughterer when he talked to the television crews outside and told them 
he was sure the cow, ground into hamburger, had already been eaten. The 
plant's owners did not return calls seeking comment.

"I got a big mouth," he said in a telephone interview.

Since then, it has gotten bigger. Using borrowed computers — he has none 
of his own, only "a microwave and a TV that gets four channels" — he 
started writing to newspapers, and is to testify today before the 
Washington State Legislature.

Contrary to reports from the federal Department of Agriculture, he 
asserts that the cow he killed was not too sick to walk. And it was 
caught not by routine surveillance, he says, but by "a fluke": he killed 
it outdoors because he feared it would trample other cows lying 
prostrate in its trailer, and the plant's testing program called for 
sampling cows killed outside only.

"Mad cows aren't downers," he said. "They're up and they're crazy." The 
Agriculture Department disputes his account. Dr. Kenneth Petersen, a 
food safety official, faxed copies of the Dec. 9 inspector's report 
saying the cow was "sternal," or down on its chest.

Mr. Louthan said he believed the government changed the report on Dec. 
23, during the panic at Vern's when a positive test was found. The 
"smoking gun," he said, is that it is the only one on the page marked 
"unable to get temp" while other cows' temperatures were recorded. It is 
easy, he said, to get a rectal temperature from a downed cow but hard 
from a jumpy one.

Dr. Petersen said that he had no indication the records were altered and 
that the veterinarian had told him the animal was lying so close to the 
trailer wall that a thermometer could not be used.

In his new role as bloody-handed industry critic, Mr. Louthan argues 
that too few cattle are tested for mad cow to say with certainty that 
beef is safe. "One mad cow is a scare, but two is an epidemic," he said. 
"They absolutely, positively don't want to find another."

Ed Curlett, a department spokesman, said about 83 a month were tested at 
Vern's from October to December. (The testing began only in October, 
when the government starting paying $10 a brain sample.)

The department has not changed last year's plans to test 40,000 cows 
nationwide this year, out of 30 million slaughtered. Janet Riley, a 
spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, which represents 
slaughterhouses, called that "plenty sufficient from a statistical 

Mr. Louthan, who lives across the street from Vern's, said that the 
slaughtering was "still going like crazy" but that an inspector in the 
plant told him no more mad cow testing was being done.

Dr. Petersen said he did not know if Vern's was testing.

On Jan. 4, an angry Mr. Louthan started sending e-mail messages to all 
the inspectors on the department's Web site, asking, "Are you just going 
to sit there with your hands in your pockets?" and accusing Agriculture 
Secretary Ann M. Veneman of lying when she said American beef was safe.

Since then, he said, green department cars have parked outside his house 
"trying to scare me."

He gave the name and number of one agent who he said had told him to get 
in the car and ordered him to stop sending e-mail. The agent refused to 
speak to a reporter, but a spokesman said Mr. Louthan had asked that 
they talk in the agent's car and the agent did not intimidate, harass or 
argue with him.

Mr. Louthan is no animal-rights champion. His good-old-boy braggadocio 
and Texas drawl make him sound like a parking-lot matador with a 
knocking gun — a tube with a blank pistol cartridge that drives a bolt 
into the brain. Killing is "really fun," and beats deboning, which he 
calls "girls' work."

"I'm fast, I'm efficient, and I know how to get in through their flight 
zones," he said, meaning the way nervous cows turn to flee.

At Vern's, he killed about 20 old dairy cows a day and buffaloes on 
Thursdays, along with the odd ostrich, emu and alpaca.

The now famous cow, he said, was a white Holstein from the Sunny Dene 
Ranch in Mabton, Wash.

She was "a good walker," he said. As the driver poked her with a cattle 
prod, her eyes were "all white, bugging out."

"She wouldn't come down that step," he went on, "and I knew she was 
fixing to double back in and trample the downers, and that's a mess," so 
he killed her there.

Mr. Louthan was also the plant's carcass splitter, and he has a warning 
about that too.

With a 400-pound band saw, he said, splitters cleave the spinal column 
from neck to tail as hot-water jets blast fat and bone dust off the saw. 
The slurry, with spinal cord in it, "runs all over the beef," he said. 
The carcasses are then hosed with hot water and sprayed with vinegar.

Bucky Gwartney, director of research for the National Cattlemen's Beef 
Association, confirmed that most American slaughterhouses do the same. 
Since the Dec. 31 ruling that all cows older than 30 months must have 
their brains and spinal cords removed, "processors are actively looking 
at changes," he said.

Mr. Louthan said the agent who ordered him to be quiet suggested that he 
was akin to "an urban terrorist" for spreading alarm about beef.

"I'm not," Mr. Louthan said. "I just want to enjoy my cheeseburger like 
anybody else. I don't want to think: Is this the magic burger that's 
going to kill me?"


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