Monday, March 07, 2005

Any sort of rubbish that is wholesome and discreet

The full thing is unfortunately behind a subscriber wall (Curse you, CanWest), but Ottawa Citizen City columnist Kelly Egan pulls off a magnificently awful conspiracy theory in today's paper: US HIDING MAD COW CASES: EXPERT Are the Americans being truthful about the extent of mad cow disease on their own soil? Many is the area farmer with suspicions, perhaps with good reason. Since May 2003, four animals have tested positive for the disease that devastated the beef industry in the United Kingdom in teh 1980s. Three of the positives were in Canada, the fourth was in Washington state, but in an animal born and raised in Alberta. Now, consider that the US has something like 100 million cattle; Canada about 15 million. In practice, the markets had become closely integrated, with tens of thousands of animals regularly crossing the border. As well, feeding practices in the two countries were very similar. After the first positive test, the Americans shut their border to Canadian cattle, citing protection of their own herd. The consequences here have been devastating, with economic losses in the billions. Much finger-wagging has ensued, including many visits from leading US experts. South of the border, meanwhile, everything looked squeaky clean. So far, so good; mainly rational, if a bit paranoid seemingly for no other reason than that Look out! American conspiracy! is always the default mindset, for some people. Egan's argument goes downhill, however, with the introduction of a Genuine Expert: Lester Friedlander thinks he can explain the puzzle. He thinks a coverup [is] under way. Mr. Friedlander is a former veterinarian with the US Department of Agriculture, and since he left in 1995, now a well-known whistleblower. Well-known, maybe. But not exactly a whistleblower, so much as a doomsaying, apocalyptically-minded vegan activist, friend to IndyMedia, and otherwise perennial anti-meat quotee. He seems to be set for life, coasting on adulation and speaking gigs for his denunciations of a mere ten-year (!) career with the USDA. Not exactly a neutral, unbiased source - and not necessarily worthy of the statement of morality that the term "whistleblower" implies. [...] Mr. Friedlander says, flat out, that mad cow is probably prevalent in the US, but has so far been kept out of the public eye. "There's no doubt in my mind." When in doubt, it's a conspiracy. It has to be. Why else is there so little evidence, if not for the conspirators' cover-up? Huh? Huh? Mark my words, Dick Cheney, Ken Lay, and Ariel Sharon will turn out to have been in on it too! It's a massive plot, to deliberately infect millions with a debilitating neurological disease! It makes perfect sense! Mr. Friedlander, who is still involved in a lawsuit with the US government, says it defies logic that only three or four cattle in North America have the disease. Wait wait wait. "Still involved in a lawsuit?" So, in actuality, a better description of him would have been "loonball conspiracy theorist currently suing the federal government," not "whistleblower?" The allegations here may or may not be true, but the cited "expert" of the headline isn't really helping Egan's case. Nor, for that matter, does his decidedly Chicken Little-like tone.

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