Friday, August 29, 2008

Bigger is Better

Okay, so let me get this straight. A meat packer, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wants to test all of their animals for Mad Cow Disease. Large meat packers oppose such testing, because they a) don't want to suffer the expense of doing such testing themselves, and b) don't want Creekstone Farms to be able to advertise that they do, presumably because they fear that people would be more likely to buy tested beef, thus giving Creekstone a competitive advantage, even with the presumably higher price.

Enter the United States Department of Agriculture, which currently tests about 1 in every 100 animals for the disease, and has taken some flack because they've managed to miss some fairly obvious cases of "downer" cows being sent to slaughter. The Department's position is that they may dictate the number of cows tested, under their power to regulate disease treatment in the food supply - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed, stating, in effect, that testing a DEAD animal for a disease for which there is NO cure can be considered part of "treatment."

It doesn't take much for the appearance of impropriety to be visible. Large meat packers don't want smaller operations to have a competitive advantage in being able to advertise that they've tested and certified that every single animal they sell is free of Mad Cow. That's fine - it's what you would expect out of business. But the USDA has NO business taking sides here - especially when there are still foreign markets leery of accepting US beef imports, for fear of the disease. The Bush Administration is showing a distinct bias towards large businesses over smaller ones, now even to the point of preventing smaller operations from capitalizing on their smaller size to increase their profitability. Especially when a case can be made that it is being done at the direct expense of the public being able to make more informed decisions concerning their health. It's likely true that if universal testing for Mad Cow became the norm, the higher prices would drive down beef consumption. But that's a choice for the market to make on its own, not for the USDA to prevent through bad-faith regulations.

This is unacceptable.

No comments: