The Corner

Bse Testing

I was going to write my syndicated column today about the USDA’s decision to prevent a private firm from testing 100% of its cows for mad cow disease (but the Edwards thing got in the way). Basically, as I understand it, Creekstone farms wants to test all of its cows for mad cow. That would make their meat more expensive but it would also give it a marketing edge against other beef sellers who cannot offer a 100% guarantee. Creekstone, which sells much of its products to Japan, was willing to take the risk of passing the extra costs to the consumer. The USDA says Creekstone cannot voluntarily test its own product in order to meet a market demand. Their rationale, basically, is that it will roil the commodities markets, mess with trade arrangements and isn’t scientifically justified. The big slaughterhouses back the USDA because such a move would create market pressure for them to do likewise. There are some technical arguments on the USDA’s side, but they seem unpersuasive to me.

Whether 100% testing is scientifically necessary or not strikes me as irrelevant. So does the question of what it will do to the rest of the cattle industry. From the folks I’ve talked to, this sounds like a sop to the meatpackers and an outrageous infringement on freemarket principles. It’s like telling a firm it can’t build a better mouse trap because of what it will do to international mouse trap markets. But, since I’m postponing the column, I’m open to folks who think they can persuade me otherwise.

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