"Stupidest" government decisions: prohibit testing for Mad Cow
An editorial by Michael Hansen pointed out that the Bush Administration had hit rock-bottom in terms of stupid public policies: prohibiting beef producers from testing for Mad Cow Disease. The FDA only tests randomly about one cow in a thousand. Because of its neglect, U.S. farmers are losing markets all over the world--including South Korea which was formerly our third-largest export destination, and consumers are needlessly exposed to the risk of a fatal disease.
A Kansas exporter, Creekstone Farms, tried to test its own animals, in order to satisfy its Japanese and Korean customers, using a test that costs about $20.00 per animal--adding 10 cents per pound to the cost of beef. This test is used by the European Union to identify Mad Cow [bovine encephalopathy], and in five years of testing it turned up more than 1100 cases. It is not fool-proof, but together with reasonable restrictions on the age of slaughtered animals, it is effective. It idenitifies sick animals within hours rather than days.
The FDA would not allow Creekstone to conduct its own testing and in addition it prohibits the sale of the testing kits in the U.S., citing a 1913 law prohibiting the sale of "worthless" veterinary products. Creekstone sued arguing the FDA's position is politically motivated since it uses this "worthless" test in its own surveillance and the EU uses the test effectively. The court agreed, but the FDA delayed Creekstone's victory by appealing.
So we are left in the absurd position that consumer health and our domestic economy are both suffering injury at the hands of a "pro-market" administration that won't allow market forces to determine whether consumers can protect themselves from a deadly disease by paying an extra 10 cents per pound. The Bush Administration officials' only public explanation of this ridiculous policy has been that allowing some producers to test animals will result in greater consumer demand, forcing all producers to conduct the "expensive" testing. Obviously, cheap producers of beef have made significant contributions to powerful politicians, to protect their own little "fiefdom" at the expense of everyone else.
Right now, our government has no shame. And our citizens apparently deserve no better if we won't insist on sounder public policies than this.