A traditional Polka song poses the question, “Someone stole the kishka. Someone stole the kishka. Who stole the kishka, from the butcher’s shop?”
Finally, there’s an answer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture stole the kishka, not to mention the tripas and the pho tai sach -- all ethnic delicacies made with cow and bull small intestines.
The discovery in December of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States prompted USDA this month to put a stop to human consumption of cattle intestines.
Banned animal parts
For the cattle and beef industries, which have long prided themselves on being able to market just about everything except the “moo,” the USDA decision marked one of the few times an animal part was banned for human consumption.
It was taken out of fear that cattle intestines carry the abnormal protein thought to cause mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a fatal neurological illness humans can get from eating contaminated beef.
“The actions we are taking ... are steps to enact additional safeguards to protect the public health,” Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said.
The government decree means that Mexico, the second-biggest importer of U.S. beef, no longer can buy the small intestines of American cattle. The guts typically are chopped, then fried or barbecued, and sold as “tripas” by Mexican street vendors.
The same goes for Vietnamese restaurants in the United States that offer up hot bowls of noodle soup called “pho tai sach,” complete with beef stuffed into intestines or stomach linings.
The ubiquitous kishka, a favorite at Polish festivals, will have to adopt a new casing for the blood, beef or barley that is the stuffing for this delicacy, depending on the chef.
And lest anyone think they can skirt the USDA regulation by buying imported small intestines, think again.
USDA sent letters this month to 10 beef-exporting countries, including Australia, Argentina, Canada and Brazil, warning their shipments would be cut off if they don’t adopt the Bush administration’s regulations.
“It’s caused great consternation in the (American) sausage industry,” said Shirley Coffield, secretary of the North American Casing Association.
Calling the USDA regulation “misguided,” Coffield complained that it prohibits imports of small intestines even from countries that are internationally recognized as being free of mad cow disease.
The $150 million U.S. natural casing industry also fears the mad cow crisis could prompt government regulators to look at a wider ban on intestines, such as sheep guts, which are widely used in frankfurters and breakfast sausage, according to one industry official who asked not to be identified.
Sheep suffer from a fatal nervous system disease called scrapie, a transmissible illness in the same family of diseases as mad cow.
The Washington state Holstein found to have BSE is having a culinary impact that reaches beyond small intestines.
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed
Japan has been looking to Australia to fill a gap in its beef supplies since Tokyo banned American meat because of mad cow fears. Australian cattle are largely grass-fed, unlike grain-fed U.S. cattle.
Jason Sawyer, assistant professor at the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University in College Station, described forage-fed beef as having “a more intense flavor and a different color” from grain-fed beef.
And while American beef might be more tender when cooked because of its “marbled” quality, grass-fed enthusiasts boast that beef has nutrients that reduce bad cholesterol and fight cancer.