Mad cow disease thundered back into news headlines in 2003. In the process it rocked the global beef industry. While select beef farmers mourned the loss of their cattle, thousands of consumers made the switch to poultry—a seemingly safe alternative.
The popularity of poultry was short-lived, however. By the end of 2003, mad cow was competing for headlines with a bird disease from Asia called avian flu. Where the threat of mad cow necessitated the destruction of thousands of cows in 2003, the peril of bird flu necessitated the death of over 100 million chickens in Asia alone. Chickens continue to be culled in nations across the world. In Canada, bird flu has already largely destroyed British Columbia’s poultry industry. Mad cow devastated the British beef industry while moderately weakening those of Canada and America. Avian flu practically decimated the Asian poultry industry.
Across the globe, scientists, international health organizations and governments are disturbed at the increasing threat that pervasive animal diseases pose to human civilization. History proves that there certainly is reason for concern.
Recent findings by the Medical Research Council in London reveal that the Spanish flu—the influenza virus that killed more than 20 million people between 1918 and 1920—started in birds. According to Science magazine, the 1918 flu jumped from birds to humans with minimal change, much like today’s avian bird flu (February 6).
At the time of this writing, avian flu in humans has been confined to about 35 cases, within Asia. However, scientists are concerned that this lull might only be temporary. “Health experts have been most worried about the possibility of the disease combining with human influenza virus to create a more lethal version that could spread between people—giving rise to a global pandemic” (msnbc, February 7).
Because of the potential for avian flu to combine with a strain of human influenza, and the fact that scientists believe we are overdue for the next global epidemic, many scientists and government health officials fear that the next outbreak could be worse that the 1918 epidemic that killed millions.
Little wonder, then, that national authorities are sanctioning the slaughter of hundreds of millions of animals, including cows, pigs, ducks and chickens. No wonder that nations would spend millions to destroy animals, risking the stability of their economies and rendering thousands of farmers jobless: These diseases have a greater potential for destruction than the public generally realizes.
Where did these diseases come from? Animals did not always have them. For those willing to believe God and His Bible, the account in Genesis shows that a supremely wise, all-intelligent God created Earth in all its intricate detail. But Genesis 1 reveals more than the fact that God created Earth; it also discloses the quality of what He created.
Much careful thought and meditative planning had been put into this project. At the conclusion of every facet of the creation, God stated that what He had created was “good,” or, in the widest sense of the original Hebrew word, perfect (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This was a perfect environment, with perfect plants and perfect animals. Not one flower or tree was poorly suited to its environment. No animal was imperfect in its structure or instinct. Everything was created perfect, including the health of every plant and animal. Diseases, viruses and infections simply did not exist.
So why are animal diseases like mad cow and avian flu becoming a growing threat to our health and well-being? How did a perfect living environment degenerate to the point where vast deserts, deadly diseases and widespread environmental destruction are the norm?
The main cause of the pervasiveness of these animal diseases and environmental degeneration lies within mankind itself.
It is an unpleasant thought, but history proves it: In every aspect of civilization, mankind’s performance has been marred by abuse, greed, neglect, robbery and destruction. These problems have been just as much a part of our environmental management and agricultural practices as they have our human relations and politics—perhaps more.
Consider modern cattle and chicken farming, for example.
Commercial farmers and feed and chemical companies—susceptible to greed and driven by massive demand from growing national populations—have discarded natural and wholesome farming practices and embraced agricultural principles based on accumulating profits. Gigantic commercial farming enterprises have virtually squeezed the family-sized farm out of business. In the process, and in order to produce the highest volume of product possible—for the smallest cost viable—commercial farmers sacrifice the health of their lands and animals.
This profit-driven mentality has given rise to massive feedlot farms where pigs, cattle and sheep are confined to small pens, and egg- and meat-producing chicken factories where chickens are housed in tiny wire cages or gigantic open sheds with concrete floors. Such confined living spaces lower labor costs.
In addition, most commercially raised cattle, pigs and sheep are fed a diet of starchy, high-calorie grain to cause the animal to gain weight quickly. Feedlot animals in particular have a grossly imbalanced diet with little grass and field-grown food. This diet also includes protein supplements, which can include anything from rendered household pets to sardines, blood or slaughterhouse waste. Many cattle and chickens are also administered growth hormones for rapid weight gain. The logic goes: The less time a cow or a chicken takes to mature to slaughter weight, the less time it is on the property and needs to be fed and cared for—and the sooner will come the profits for its meat. It all comes down to greed.
The effects of today’s greed-based agriculture include avian flu and mad cow, but these are only the most highly publicized among many such diseases. Poor farming practices cause the death of millions of animals every year in nations around the world. It’s only when these diseases pose a serious potential threat to people that we see them in the headlines.
For the purposes of this article, let’s notice how greed is a fundamental cause of mad cow and avian flu.
First detected in November 1986, mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (bse), is a fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of adult cattle. Scientists generally accept that bse is caused by infectious forms of protein, or prions. Cattle infected with bse initially have the disease in their small intestines and tonsils, after which it can migrate to central nervous tissues such as the brain or spinal cord. This disease eats away at the brain of the cow, impairing the animal’s ability to perform simple functions such as walking, hence the name “mad cow.” A similar prion disease, scrapies disease, occurs in sheep; it is widely believed that cows contracted the disease originally because they were fed with rendered parts of infected sheep. bse belongs to the same family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (tses)—as does Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, which infects people.
It is widely known that, on most commercial farms, rendered animal tissue (from various dead animals) is incorporated into the animal feed and protein supplements fed to cattle. In the rendering process, dead animals (including slaughterhouse scraps, restaurant scraps, dead farm animals, even euthanized cats and dogs) are minced, then steam-cooked. One of the primary end-products is a high-protein powder that is used in feed and protein supplements for cattle, pigs and other animals. Although the dead animals are boiled at high temperatures in the rendering process, bse-causing prion proteins are not all destroyed. Cattle can contract mad cow disease when they consume feed and protein supplements contaminated with these prions.
Again, too many cattle farmers, in their efforts to reduce feed costs while forcing cattle to gain weight rapidly, are prepared to raise their cattle on cheap—and potentially dangerous—feed and protein supplements. As long as people continue to practice cattle farming in this manner, the threat of mad cow disease will loom over our heads.
We previously noted that avian flu is not dissimilar to human influenza. It is so similar, in fact, that the chief concern is that the deadly bird flu virus might mutate by combining with the common human flu to form a deadly new strain.
The main reason this potential exists is also poor agricultural practices.
Think about the nature of chicken farms. Because thousands, even tens of thousands, of chickens are in such close contact, if even a few chickens contract the disease on one such farm, within days they all could be infected. Cross-contamination between farms occurs when meat is exported from the contaminated farm, young birds are sold to other commercial farms, or personnel leave the property. It can be transmitted in the wind. The disease even can be transported between nations when wild birds that might have contracted the disease from a chicken farm migrate to other nations and regions.
Thus, it’s not hard to understand why millions of chickens in Asia have had to be destroyed: It’s because millions of chickens are kept unnaturally close to each other. This is poor animal husbandry, motivated by greed. Commercial chicken farms operate like this for no other reason but to lower input costs, increasing the profitability of their end-product.
When we house tens of thousands of chickens in extremely close confines and feed cattle, which are natural herbivores, on supplements containing the brains, bones and organs of other cattle and animals, is it any wonder that diseases like avian flu and mad cow exist? Our agricultural practices have been perverted, and these diseases are the penalty.
The Right Way
You might be surprised to learn that God has provided mankind with laws, principles and guidelines for farming and agriculture. It was God who created our environment, and it was He who gave us its “care for” instructions. The principles that God gave to man, if followed, would have led to robust, healthy, disease-free plants and animals. Our environments, in response to being treated with respect and care, would have nurtured a perfect balance between the soil, plants, animals and humans.
By the completion of His seven-day creation, God had created an overwhelmingly beautiful and perfect environment. After the first five days, a magnificently balanced physical environment of pure, clean air, unpolluted oceans and rivers, and healthy, vibrant, colorful plants and animals existed. But Earth was not yet complete. On the sixth day, God created people. Adam and Eve were the crowning glory of God’s physical creation of the Earth. In fact, scriptures indicate that the entire Earth, in all its perfection, was created for humans (Gen. 1:28-29). God clearly told Adam and Eve that the Earth was theirs.
But with the blessing of control over Earth’s environment came responsibility. When God handed over the Earth to man’s governance, He also gave Adam instructions and guidelines on how to sustain the perfect environment.
In Genesis 2:15, God gave Adam two principles to follow in managing this perfect environment—principles which, if practiced, would have caused the environment to remain perfect. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Dress means to work and, by implication, to serve as a bondman, or become servant to. Keep means to guard, hedge about, protect, preserve and look narrowly to (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). In this one verse, God told Adam and mankind in general that they were to work with and serve the environment around them—to guard and preserve its beauty and perfection within the laws that governed this perfect environment.
Contrast this commission with man’s track-record of environmental mismanagement since Adam—a record of abuse, greed, neglect, robbery and destruction! Mankind has done the opposite of what God instructed; we work against our environment. Through history, mankind has been looking to simply get from our environment. Today, few farmers base their farming on the way of give.
This world’s agriculture needs to be revolutionized! Not only do the practices and methods of agriculture need to change, but our entire approach to the industry must change. Attitudes of greed and self-interest need to be discarded and replaced with the attitudes of service and respect for the environment. Mankind needs to reassume its role as leader of the environment and once again to dress and keep the environment as God intended. When we do this, the response from our soil, plants and animals will be wonderful. Soils, crops and animals will be abundantly healthy and robust, causing humans to be strong and healthy. Animals will be disease-free, and pervasive diseases like avian flu and mad cow will not exist. We can be sure that Earth will return to the former glory and magnificence described in Genesis. Our Bibles say so (Amos 9:13; Isa. 35:1-2, 6-7; 11:6-9).