Where’s the Beef? The Battle of the Boi Zebu

The cow is of the bovine ilk
One end is moo, the other, milk
–Ogden Nash

Zebu é boi, sim, diz pesquisador: The Estado de S. Paulo notes another of those international nomenclature disputes that dot the landscape of the global intellectual property crusades like gibbering absurdities from the right-hand panel of Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.

The Irish, it claims, are questioning whether Brazilian herds of bos indicus, known locally as the (noble) boi zebu (above) — the preferred species of cattle for meat production here — are really bovine at all.

If not, the Irish are reportedly claiming, then its flesh cannot be marketed as “beef.”

In a previous note on the alleged dispute, the Estadão noted the hiring of a PR firm to combat the alleged campaign. It nows appears to be offering that PR campaign a monopoly on the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone on this subject.

The thing is that this all seems to be something of a secondary or tertiary issue, at best — if not wholly fictious. Something of a tempest in a teapot.

The serious ink on a proposed EU ban on Brazilian beef exports seems to be getting spilled on another issue entirely. As The Scotsman reported on October 11, 2007:

TWO years ago to this very day a major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was, after weeks of suspicion, confirmed in three provinces in Brazil, one of the world’s leading beef-producing countries, with a cattle population of more than 200 million — Scotland has just 1.9 million head.

Indeed, I have yet to be able to confirm that the Irish or anyone else are actually making the claim that the Estado de S. Paulo reports they are making.

Brazilian beef exports have been the subject of protests by Irish cattlemen, who claim Brazilian export beef fails to meet EU standards of food safety. But the genus and species question does not seem to be chief among them. I have not yet even found a mention of it, and the reporting in the Brazilian source does not cite any sources containing such statements.

The Irish Times:

The Brazilian government and the country’s farming industry deny the claims of use of illegal growth hormones and say Brazil is implementing the recommendations of EU animal health officials who visited the country in March.

Unless I am missing something, I suspect that “straw man” argumentation — “filibustering while changing the subject” — is going on here.

The issue appears to be compliance with food safety standards. Realistic coverage of that story — How fair is the charge? What is being done about it? — would be more useful to someone wanting to know what risk the Brazilian beef industry runs ahead of the next round of Doha.

In a related story here in Brazil, meanwhile, the headlines have been taken up lately by a “scandal” over the discovery of substandard practices in milk production in Minas Gerais.

In that heavily covered story, you are seeing, I am getting the impression, a concerted effort to tag the (European) Parmalat brand with the scandal.

But the fact is that a number of different distributors, national and multinational, were supplied from the same, possibly tainted, vat.

It reminds me of the coverage of the Cisco affair, in which Cisco resellers bear the vast brunt of formal accusations — only one (former) Cisco executive remains in custody, of the dozens taken in for question in the case — but the business media prefers to treat it as the “Cisco” scandal rather than a “systems integrator” and “VAR” scandal involving most of the major players in that sector.

The “tainted milk” case has led to the recall of a certain number of lots of various brands, possibly tainted with disallowed additives, as well as a concerted inspection effort to ensure any other cheating on or adulteration of food safety standards have not been missed.

Which is an interesting subject in itself.

The medical literature, for example, indicates that “tainted food” rumors are a frequent focus of “mass hysteria” cases, in which sensationalist media reporting often plays a role.

It would be interesting to survey the coverage of the case here from that point of view. Most media outlets have provided the standard treatment — these are the lot numbers to throw out if you have them in your fridge, and here is how to find them on the box; this is what the supermarkets have done to minimize the risk; here are regulatory steps being taken to double-check compliance in case this was not an isolated FUBAR.

But there is quite a bit of FUD-mongering on display as well, I find.

Maybe later.

Because you already know what I thought of the majority of reporting in the major news media here on the TAM aviation disaster.

It was, in many, many instances, and in the overwhelming aggregate, a howling typhoon of sleazy, lazy, largely anonymously or misleadingly sourced, too often leak-based, and indefensibly hysterical and alarmist claptrap.

The image “https://i1.wp.com/i113.photobucket.com/albums/n216/cbrayton/glob1.png” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
In its running coverage of the TAM air disaster, TV Globo’s Jornal Nacional has on an expert to comment on its latest scoop: Surveillance camera footage of the doomed Airbus zooming by. Expert’s conclusion: Both reverse-thrusters were operational. This turns out to be definitively, gabblingly wrong. No matter. The JN segues into the next samba do perito doido without blinking in an eye. Except now that it has tried to get me to take seriously what turned out to be utter nonsense, I no longer give a rat’s ass what it purports to report. See NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNNBS: Of Citizenship, Journalism and Citizen Journalism.

So as far as I can see, the terminological and ontological question — is the Brazilian boi a member of the genus bos? — is something of a red herring.

A changing of the subject while filibustering.

A straw man.

Still, this general type of semantics-based commercial dispute is not without some intrinsic interest. Or would be, were it relevant here.

A friend of mine is always commenting, for example, that such disputes over language seem rather trivial.

Why should it matter whether the gizmo is called a teclado or a keyboard (pronounced “kee-BAWR-djee,” if you happen to be from Pirapora or thereabouts, or learned Portuguese fro the films of Mazzaropi)? As Brazilian law now requires?

It can matter.

Serious public policy and commercial interests can be at stake in (genuine) disputes of this kind.

My favorite example being the German firm that claimed global rights over the Portuguese term rapadura. A characteristic raw sugar product of the Brazilian Northeast, rapadura — I like to take a penknife and cut shavings of the stuff into my coffee — bears no resemblance at all to the German product put out under that brand name. But the Germans want Brazilian producers and exporters to cease and desist from using the term.

The balls on those Germans! A similar dispute arose over a Japanese firm that tried to control rights to the term açaí, a fruit native to the Amazon region and commonly eaten here na tigela.

The most familiar example is probably the A.O.C. rules governing the labeling and marketing of French wines.

Champagne is not champagne unless it comes from the region of France for which it is named. Freixenet, from Catalonia, for example — our favorite cheap ingredient for making the kir royale and its locale variant, made with homemade jaboticaba liqueur (I call it the Zebu Cavaco Royale) — is a sparkling wine manufactured using the Champagne process, or something like that.

Google intellectual property lawyers at one point wanted to crack down on the use of the verb “to Google,” you might recall, and issued a cease and desist order to the pop sociolinguist at the Word Spy to this effect.

I believe in the end they agreed not to object to small-g “to google” — analogous to the way “to xerox” came to be synonymous in common parlance with “to photocopy.”

As why would they not? Imagine if the term “Colin Brayton” came to be synonymous with deep wisdom and literary sprezzatura. “The author’s latest book is extremely Colin Brayton.”

Would I object? In theory, no — although if I were honest with myself, I would probably have to sue myself for false advertising if I tried to take commercial advantage of the fact.

“The lyfe so shorte, the crafte so longe to lerne.” Much of my writing is sloppy and murky.

Blogging — publishing rough drafts as fast as I can type them, under the Jack Kerouac “first thought, best thought theory” — does not help matters any, either. Hemingway had a point: It’s not real writing; it’s just typing.

But fuck it, anyhow. I enjoy typing. That is all I really care about. So caveat lector.

Anyone who thinks they can learn more about the world from bloggers, without boiling the content first to make sure it is fit for human consumption, is prone to believing in imaginary news and nonsense, and a candidate for the Darwin Awards.

In more general terms, I guess you could call it a dispute over the concept of “public intellectual property.”

– Os irlandeses vêm afirmando, numa campanha de difamação da carne bovina produzida no Brasil, que o zebu criado aqui não seria autêntico, e sim uma mistura de boi com búfalo. Ou seja, a carne exportada pelo Brasil para a Europa não seria a autêntica carne bovina. Diante dessas declarações, o pesquisador Antônio Rosa, da Embrapa Gado de Corte, levanta literatura a respeito e aponta a incorreção da ‘teoria’ irlandesa.

The Irish are saying, in a campaign to defame Brazilian beef, that the zebu raised here is allegedly not authentic, but rather a hybrid of the domestic cow with the buffalo. That is, meat exported by Brazil to Europe is allegedly not authentic beef. In the face of such claims, researcher Antônio Rosa of Embrapa Cattle has looked into the literature on the subject and points to the errors in the Irish “theory.”

Além da difamação, os irlandeses demonstram total ignorância quanto à história evolutiva das raças bovinas””, diz Rosa, acrescentando: “Dizer que zebu não é bovino é o mesmo que reconhecer que gado europeu também não o é, já que ambos se encontram no mesmo ponto da escala do processo evolutivo (Veja quadro).”

Besides this defamation, the Irish demonstrate a total ignorance of the evolution of bovine species,” says Rosa, adding: “To say that the boi zebu is not bovine is the same thing as saying that European cattle are also not bovine, given that both of them occupy the same position on the evolutionary ladder (see diagram).”

Tanto o gado europeu (Bos taurus) quanto o zebu (Bos indicus) descendem do boi primitivo, do mesmo ancestral, conhecido por urus ou auroch, cuja região de origem é onde hoje se encontram o norte da Índia e os desertos da Arábia.

Both European cattle (Bos taurus) and the zebu (Bos indicus) descend from a common ancestor, known as the urus or auroch …

Right: the “ur-ox,” or bos primigenius.

… whose area of origin was present-day northern India and the deserts of Arabia.

Is that so?

Wikipedia (FR): The ranges of the ur-ox, the African ur-ox, and the nomadic ur-ox, as far as paleontologists can currently figure them.

It goes on like this, discussing the evolutionary trajectory of modern, mooing, mammiferous and ruminatively multi-stomached BBQable ungulates.

It might be worth going on to check the science outlined here — if, that is, the semantics of the terms beef, bouef, carne de bovino, bøf, Rindfleisch, hovädzie, Oxkött and the like — source: IATE — were the real issue here.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s