business news in context, analysis with attitude

An MNB user forwarded us a story that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer recently, profiling a woman who realized that two employees of the Garden State Racetrack near Philadelphia had, within as three-year period of time, died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob brain disease (CJD), the human version of mad cow disease. The woman, Janet Skarbek, wondered: “How could two of just 100 administrative employees at the track be felled by a neurological disease health officials say kills just one in a million people each year, usually after age 60?” (One of the victims was 56, the other was 29.)

“Almost overnight,” the Inquirer writes, “Skarbek changed from suburban mother of two, tax manager and Sunday school teacher into an Erin Brockovich-like crusader fighting to keep mad cow disease from spreading through the U.S. food supply.

“Skarbek, 37, began combing obituaries and over time identified 18 people she believes died of CJD from 1993 to 2004 and had eaten regularly at the same restaurant at the now-closed racetrack.”

While government officials deny the charges, Skarbek says that she believes health officials are essentially covering up the causes for the deaths, in part by how they classify certain deaths and/or clusters of deaths. But for the moment, Skarbek has given up her job and plans to keep trying to raise people’s consciousness about the problem.

“Skarbek is pushing for a total ban on animals in the human food chain eating blood or body parts from other animals, and she wants doctors nationwide to have to report CJD cases so more victims can be autopsied and more learned about the disease,” the Inquirer writes. “Officials at state and federal government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, insist the beef supply is safe. They consistently dismiss Skarbek's suspicions that some sporadic CJD cases really are a different strain of variant CJD” (which is the difference between naturally occurring CJD and the kind connected to mad cow disease).

"I think it's so important to get this story out there" to the public, Skarbek tells the paper. "They need to know about mad cow, that it's here and that the government covered it up."
KC's View:
She may be a nut.

On the other hand, history teaches us that people like this who are labeled as crazy end up not only being right, but being played by Julia Roberts in Oscar-winning movies.

We have no idea if she’s right nor not. But our sense is that she is not to be trifled with, and not to be ignored.

The MNB user who send us the clip also sent us a note: “It's interesting and frightening and makes you wonder what will be found out in the next five to ten years...”

Damn right.