Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bush Trades Affordable Drugs for Seniors for BSE infected Beef

Washington D.C. was all abuzz today of the Inauguration of President George W. Bush for President. What a world of difference it would have been if it were John Kerry instead!

President Bush spoke a lot of freedom. He also stated:
"My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people from further attacks and emerging threats."

Unfortunately, this President fails to see the threat to Americans of deadly disease and the need that Americans have for access to affordable drugs for the treatment of such illnesses.

On December 3, 2003, just about six weeks ago, President Bush made a visit to Ottawa. During that visit, he met with Prime Minister Paul Martin to discuss:
"...continental security, mad cow disease, and softwood lumber trade, among other topics."

But what about "mad cow disease". And so what is the big deal about a disease that makes cows go "mad"? First of all, according to the USDA, BSE is:
"a chronic degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of cattle. BSE is named because of the spongy appearance of the brain tissue of infected cattle examined under a microscope."

So how does this affect people? As reported by the Centers for Disease Control:
Since 1996, strong evidence has accumulated for a causal relationship between ongoing outbreaks in Europe of a disease in cattle called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease") and a disease in humans called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Both disorders, which are caused by an unconventional transmissible agent, are invariably fatal brain diseases with unusually long incubation periods, which are measured in years. Transmission of the BSE agent to humans, leading to vCJD, is believed to occur via ingestion of cattle products contaminated with the BSE agent; however, the specific foods associated with this transmission are unknown. Bioassays have identified the BSE agent in the brain, spinal cord, retina, dorsal root ganglia, distal ileum, and bone marrow of cattle experimentally infected by the oral route, suggesting that these tissues represent the highest risk of transmission.

For a little historical background:
When Canada reported a case of mad cow disease in May 2003, the United States banned Canadian cattle, beef and beef products. Restrictions were later eased to allow imports considered at very low risk of the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. The closing has cost the Canadian beef industry at least $3 billion.

At the same time, American pharmaceutical firms have been feeling the heat of drug reimportation from Canada. As Congressman Pallone of New Jersey testified July 13, 2004:
The pharmaceutical companies can continue to charge outrageous prices because Republicans refuse to give the Secretary of Health and Human Services the ability to negotiate better prices for seniors in the government.

The pharmaceutical companies also benefit from the fact that Republicans also refuse to allow for the reimportation of prescription drugs from other countries. My colleagues probably heard of seniors taking bus trips across the border into Canada to purchase their prescription drugs. And that is because drugs in other counties, including Canada, cost 40 percent less than they do here.

This year alone experts at Boston University estimate that Americans would save $59.7 billion by paying Canadian prices for brand name drugs, and, yet, Republicans refuse to include a provision in their legislation that would provide seniors with this much needed assistance.

So as reported by Canada NewsWire, in regards to internet sales of Canadian drugs to Americans:
Ujjal Dosanjh, Liberal Minister of Health, has recently made statements
threatening to shut down the industry, which employs an estimated 4,000
Canadians directly and many more indirectly. He admitted to CTV news on the
weekend that U.S. President George W. Bush raised the issue with Prime
Minister Paul Martin during his recent visit to Ottawa

As the story explains:
Bush is responding to pressure from drug manufacturers that are opposed
to American citizens having access to lower-priced Canadian pharmaceuticals.
Canadian drug prices are controlled, unlike those in the U.S., where drug
companies can charge higher prices that many patients, especially the
elderly, cannot afford. "It's really a question of drug company profit,"
said Dr. Zickler.

But for many Americans, the reduced cost of access to Canadian drugs may determine whether they can afford medications at all. This is a decision that balances drug company profits against affordable medications for many senior citizens!

Shortly after Bush's visit to Canada, the USDA announced a relaxation of rules concerning importations of Canadian beef:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Dec. 29 that after conducting an extensive risk review it is establishing conditions under which it will allow imports of live cattle under 30 months of age and certain other commodities from regions with effective bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prevention and detection measures.

However, things are not going better with mad cow disease. Additional cases are being reported while the USDA is loosening restrictions on imports, clearly putting the American people at risk for fatal neuro-degenerative diseases. All apparently done to protect American Drug Companies from the threat of allowing Americans access to lower cost Canadian drugs at the expense of Big Pharma profits.

As noted today on Bloomberg:
Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- At least six animals that were raised in Canada with an eight-year-old cow that had mad cow disease were exported to the U.S., Canadian officials said.

Investigators are trying to trace the dairy cows to determine whether any were slaughtered and whether the meat may have entered the human food chain, said Alain Charette, spokesman for Canada's Food Inspection Agency. They were among 141 animals born on the same Alberta farm within a year of the cow whose mad cow infection was confirmed Jan. 2, he said. Canada confirmed another mad cow case -- its third -- on Jan. 11.

And what about John Kerry. I found the best comments in support of John Kerry's understanding of BSE on a website called "Top Five Reasons Bush is Best for Cattlemen":
Sen. Kerry questioned the science pertaining to the U.S.'s BSE risk. After Dec. 23, Kerry told national media "I am calling on President Bush to act immediately to improve our food safety and inspection process." He believes additional surveillance beyond the current, highly sophisticated USDA program is needed.

In addition, Sen. Kerry supports ban of imports from Canada. On April 7, 10 Democratic U.S. senators, including presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, signed a letter that said it was "premature " to lift the ban on imports of live cattle. The letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman claimed Canada has been lax in measures taken so far to test for the disease.

And drug reimportation? As reported by WebMD:
President Bush signed a prescription drug bill that barred Medicare from negotiating better prices for prescription drugs. John Kerry would allow Medicare to negotiate better prices, and that would start to cut into some of the $139 billion in windfall profits the prescription drug companies made from the Medicare prescription drug bill last year. John Kerry supports allowing Americans to reimport safe prescription drugs from countries like Canada. This is something that the president has had the authority to do, but for four years he has stopped it from happening. In the second debate the president made some wishy-washy, "flip-floppy" comments on reimportation, but the basic reality is there for anyone to understand. Sen. Kerry is in favor of it, George Bush is opposed to it.

Senator Kerry, welcome back to the U.S. Senate and to the forefront of the battle for what is right for America. We needed a President inaugurated today who would fight for America's health and not sell out to Drug interests who were more concerned about their corporate profits than Americans' access to medication.

John, please keep up the fight for us! This President is ready to endanger us, our children, and our families to "emerging threats" including the dangers of importing BSE infected animals from Canada and eating beef contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Please fight for us in the Senate! Please keep this government on our side! We need you in 2008! Why couldn't it have been YOU who was inaugurated today?



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