“A lie will go ’round the world while the truth is pulling on its boots.” That proverb rings especially true in the world of mad-cow activism. And there’s one lie in particular that’s earning more than its share of frequent-flier miles: the unfounded claim that
blood-plasma protein derived from cows and mixed into cattle feed presents a risk for infection.

Mad Cow USA author John Stauber bears much of the responsibility for circulating this false theory. Yesterday he told National Public Radio’s Morning Edition: “A calf in the United States could be infected with mad cow disease the moment it’s taken off its mother’s milk and put on a perfectly legal calf milk replacer whose protein source is raw cattle blood protein.”

Nonsense. Simply put, the infectious prions that cause mad cow disease have never been found in cow’s blood. While there’s evidence that an infected human could pass the disease to another person through a blood transfusion, that’s nothing like the oral cow-to-cow theory that Stauber’s talking about. And he’s counting on the fact that most journalists lack the scientific confidence to challenge him.

The Office International des Epizooties (World Animal Health Organization), the European Union Scientific Steering Committee, and the World Health Organization call blood and plasma products Category IV” tissues, meaning that they have “no detected infectivity.” The EU writes: “It has not been possible to detect the presence of the BSE [mad-cow] prion in the blood of cattle, either sick or incubating the disease.” (see page 4)

John Stauber is hardly the only one trying to scare Americans with tales of cattle blood. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association is also guilty of spreading this rumor-turned-urban-legend, as are animal-rights leaders Michael Greger and Andrew Knight.