Category Archives: documentary

CATTLEGATE is Coming to You

Recently, I was interviewed by Robin Erb, a public health writer for the Detroit Free Press. She tracked me down through the miracle of the internet because of a documentary I produced a long, long time ago, entitled, CATTLEGATE which is about the PBB Poisoning in the State of Michigan back in the mid-1970s.

Read the first article in it’s entirety here:
Decades later, PBB contamination suspected in illnesses and deaths

My connection to this poisoning is the fact that I grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan and my father, Dr. Ted F. Jackson, was a farm animal veterinarian at the time. He was the person to diagnose PBB as the contaminant in the farm feed and write the first technical article on the PBB Syndrome in contaminated cattle for the American Veterinary Medical (AVMA) Journal. I believe at the time this was the largest agricultural poisoning disaster in the history of the world. Now, I know that sounds a bit extreme, some may say I’m even over-stating it. But, I don’t think I am.

PBB started out as a huge off-the-wall mistake. Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB) were a newly invented synthetic chemical which was developed to be mixed into plastics to make them fire retardant for use in appliances and such. Coincidentally, at that same time period, dairy farm researchers had discovered that by mixing a magnesium oxide additive into cattle’s dairy feed, they could enhance milk production and fat content in cows. So, a dairy farmer could add this to his feed and essentially make more profit on his diary products. Yes, I know things have changed since then and we now abhor too much fat in our diets, but back then, the rich, creamy flavor of our ice cream was more important than our cholesterol counts.

So, the Michigan Chemical Company just happened to be the company that produced both PBB and Magnesium Oxide additive. Sadly, the two chemicals looked almost identical, white powdery substances. And they were both bagged in 50 pound white sacks. One was labeled “FireMaster” (PBB) and the other was labeled “NutraMaster”. And, apparently the Michigan Chemical Company shipped out the wrong chemical to the Farm Bureau’s main feed plant in Climax, Michigan. And, nobody seemed to catch the name difference. Admittedly they are similar names.

What happened was, PBB got mixed in the cattle feed and ultimately, almost the entire state of Michigan was contaminated. And, while the Detroit Free Press probably won’t say that the Michigan State Government covered up this disaster as a means of flushing the contaminated food products into the food chain, I will.

Now what my father found out through his studies of calves eating the contaminated feed was that PBB was carcinogenic, and genetically mutating on the animals and pretty much destroyed their immune systems, opening the poisoned animal up to an almost infinite variety of physical ailments. And, he found that PBB doesn’t flush out of the animal it gets into. It accumulates in the body fat (they call it ‘bio-accumulation’) and hence my father believed there was no safe level of PBB which could be allowed to go out into the human food chain. But, at the time this disaster began, the automobile industry was struggling, and if the government and the insurance companies took the financial hit of destroying every contaminated animal, they felt that the entire state of Michigan would go bankrupt.

So, the Michigan State Legislature set ‘acceptable’ levels of contamination in the cattle and dairy products. What this did was throw a profound moral dilemma back on the shoulders of the farmers. You see the farmers consumed their own meat and dairy products and they were seeing their families getting sick. But, the government was forcing them to sell their poisoned products to market and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to pay their FHA Farm Loans and they’d go bankrupt and out of business. It was a bad position to be in.

Eventually, they did destroy quite a few cattle, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. And now almost forty years later the DETROIT FREE PRESS is running a two day series of articles on the human health consequences today. I haven’t read the articles yet, but it should be interesting. Because the predictions forty years ago were that PBB would be haunting the human health population for many generations to come.

So, Sunday September 23, 2012 go to the Detroit Free Press website and see what is revealed. And, if you’d like to see a clip from my documentary, CATTLEGATE, go to our website,

I’ll blog some more about this after I read the articles. They’ll also have some video up on the Detroit Free Press website from current interviews they did with people in Michigan.