Under measures imposed by the European Union after the BSE scare, Portugal is to kill 20,000 head of cattle by March. Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis is a disease caused by a protein, called a prion, which lodges in the brain and systematically destroys it, causing the characteristic trembling limbs which precede a death through a degeneration of the central nervous system It is a disease endemic in cattle and sheep (in the form of scrapie, a similar disease). Having interviewed an English dairy farmer recently, on a visit to the UK, the old man told me that he had always seen cows “with the shakes”, the classic symptom of BSE. When asked how long ago he had noticed this, he told me that since he was a boy in the 1930s, cows frequently had to be killed but not so many as nowadays. What caused the difference and the epidemic in BSE cases among cattle and the human variant of the disease, New Variant (nv) Creuzfeld-Jacob Disease, is probably, if not certainly, due to the practice of feeding cattle (herbivores) with pulverised bone marrow and brains – of other cattle, in an attempt to beat the laws of nature and to produce mature animals in ever-decreasing time spans. In Portugal, the case is reaching alarming proportions. The Azores Islands are facing financial ruin after their main industry (beef) has collapsed. However, this scandal is not only confined to cows. Since January 1st, it has been legally binding to slaughter all bovines, sheep and goats with BSE or suspected of being at risk. From March 1st, this law will apply to pigs and poultry. Basically, all meat that people eat is subject to contamination with BSE or other related diseases. It was reported that battery farms for hens have terrible conditions. It was only when a farmer in Central Portugal told me how terrible these conditions were that I decided to visit one such farm. What I saw horrified me and it is an experience I shall never forget. Chickens crammed into cages the size of their bodies, their feet sticking out beneath the cage, the food chain including their own faeces…and mature birds, all the same size, being produced in three weeks. Now imagine how surprised everyone is that the incidence of new diseases is rising! Anyone who knows the countryside will remember that a mature hen takes a year to mature, a pig the same time and a cow or sheep at least two. The beef industry has been seriously hit in Europe. In Germany, for instance, 25% of the population has stopped eating beef and in Portugal, the figure is probably 50%. The problem is that beef seems only to be the beginning of the story. If the problem is present in poultry, pigs, sheep and goats, the only alternative is to eat fish or become a vegetarian. Fish, we now discover, is not as safe as we had thought. Salmon and trout, for instance, bred in fisheries which also use artificial feeds, are considered dangerous for the health and it now appears that certain sea-fish contain mercury poisoning. Regarding a turn towards vegetarianism, one discovers that soya, for instance, brings the potential hazard of genetic engineering and then other cereals are also reported to have been genetically modified to grow faster and become more resilient. In my intestines? No thanks. I prefer to live on the clean air in my capital city and the pure water from Lisbon’s taps…or should I just forget everything and eat, drink and fall asleep?



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