by Barbara D'Amato
There I was, minding my own business as I always do, reading the news, running my eye down the headlines. A story said COURT: US CAN BACK MAD COW TESTING. Fine, I thought. My government is protecting me. I went on to the next story.
Wait! That didn’t seem like what I had read. No, it was
COURT: US CAN BLOCK MAD COW TESTING
A federal court of appeals has decided in a case brought by Creekstone Farms Premium Beef that the administration can forbid meat packers from testing their beef animals for mad cow disease.
The US Department of Agriculture tests one per cent of US beef animals for mad cow disease. Mad cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is an always-fatal neurological illness contracted from eating infected meat. Just three cases of mad cow have been reported in the US, all in cows, not people. There have been a hundred and fifty human deaths worldwide. So this is not exactly a huge health issue. However, much of the world refused for a while to import US beef after a 2003 case here. While trade has largely been restored, this is a potentially big economic problem, I’m sure.
Creekstone Farms is a small Arkansas-based producer of premium beef, particularly black angus. It claims humane treatment of its animals and has a line of “natural” beef, raised without hormones, antibiotics, or animal scraps in feed. Their products are accepted for EU export. They wanted to add that their beef had been tested for mad cow.
Creekstone claimed that the Agriculture Department can only regulate treatment, and since there is no cure and no treatment for mad cow disease, they should be permitted to test. The court of appeals, saying testing is a part of treatment, denied the permission. If you don’t understand why testing is a part of nonexistent treatment, I don’t understand either.
Anyway--why doesn’t your government want testing, even when the company, not the government, is paying for the test?
Well, big meat packers claimed that if little Creekstone tested, then they would have to also.
In fact, if a lot of meat packers didn’t want to test, and marketed their beef at lower prices, I would think that cheaper meat would probably appeal to a lot of consumers. And given the extremely low level of risk, they’d be making a reasonable bet.
Is the government afraid that tested beef in the market makes the supply of untested beef look bad?
Are they afraid some mad cow cases will turn up in the cattle and cast all beef in the US into disrepute?
Are they afraid their test will fail to uncover actual mad cow cases, that the infected beef will be marketed abroad, and cause illness, and then shut down all beef sales from the US?
Would they prefer cases not to be found?
So let’s suppose you want to buy meat that has been tested. You realize the danger is minuscule, but you’re willing to pay a premium for the beef. You can’t. Your government won’t let you.
Oh well, let them eat fish.