On Jan. 14 of this year, a small probe named Huygens disengaged from Cassini, a spacecraft orbiting Saturn. This probe, just 9 feet wide, landed on Titan, Saturn’s large, mysterious moon located approximately 793 million miles from Earth. The Cassini-Huygens mission to explore Saturn and Titan was launched in 1997 and is an international collaboration between three space agencies. The Huygens probe immediately began streaming incredible data back to Earth.
Photos, sound waves and other data collected by Huygens revealed Titan’s surface temperature to be about -289 F, with light surface winds that rise to 270 miles per hour 75 miles up in the atmosphere.
That we humans are capable of sending an unmanned spacecraft into the outer reaches of our solar system and retrieving data from such a mission is truly remarkable. Clearly, the Cassini-Huygens mission is proof that science and technology are rapidly changing the way we live our lives.
Change, however, is not always welcome. And when we oppose change, we often try to discredit the science and/or the scientists involved. Such seems to be the case with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
The world’s best scientists tell us that our risk of contracting the human form of BSE from eating beef is minimal and that we’ve reduced that risk even further by a series of actions taken by our industry since 1997. Those actions include the ruminant feed ban and the removal of specified risk materials at the time of harvest. Further, we know that harvesting animals under 30 months of age lowers the health risks associated with BSE to near zero.
Despite assurances from the scientific community, BSE remains the smokescreen used to keep the Canadian border closed to live cattle. Early this month, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull granted a preliminary injunction blocking a USDA rule, slated to go into effect March 7, that would reopen the U.S. beef market to Canadian beef products and cattle under 30 months of age. R-CALF USA had asked Cebull for the injunction.
R-CALF supporters said the judge “indicated an understanding that this is a complicated issue” that requires a “delay to diligently pursue resolution of all issues potentially detrimental to ranchers.” The American Meat Institute, however, expressed “strong disagreement” with the opinion.
“It is regrettable that the court has accepted as fact some of the assertions included in R-CALF’s pleadings,” said AMI Senior Vice President Mark Dopp.
The day after Cebull’s ruling, the Senate passed a joint resolution of disapproval sending USDA the message that it also disagrees with reopening the Canadian border.
Kansas senator Pat Roberts warned his colleagues. “Be careful what you ask for,” he said. “We will take a giant step backward in our efforts to reopen markets to Japan, or for that matter, anywhere, if we vote today to approve this resolution.”
And Ag Secretary Mike Johanns agreed that the Senate’s action undermines U.S. efforts to promote science-based regulations and complicates efforts to reopen foreign markets.
“USDA remains confident that the requirements of the minimal-risk rule, in combination with the animal and public-health measures already in place in the U.S. and Canada, provide the utmost protection to both U.S. consumers and livestock. We also remain fully confident in the underlying risk assessment, developed in accordance with OIE guidelines, which determined Canada to be a minimal-risk region.”
It’s ironic that science and technology can land a probe on Titan, transmitting data that takes 68 minutes to reach Mission Control back on Earth, yet we can’t accept the science that says Canada is a BSE “minimal-risk” country.