Thursday, March 30, 2006

Federal government prevents meatpacker from testing cows for BSE

Creekstone Farms, a U.S. meatpacker, last week announced that it is suing the federal government for the right to test its meat for "Mad Cow Disease" (BSE). From the company press release:
Creekstone is challenging USDA’s claim that it has the legal authority to control access to and the use of the “test kits” needed to perform BSE testing. Over the past two years, USDA has repeatedly denied Creekstone’s requests to conduct voluntary BSE testing. Creekstone Farms has publicly stated that it believes U.S. beef is safe. Nevertheless, Creekstone’s customers, as well as other beef consumers around the world, want beef from BSE tested cattle. For example, a December 2005 poll by the Kyodo News Service found that more than half of Japanese consumers want U.S. beef to be tested for BSE. Creekstone simply wants to satisfy its customers.
From Reuters (via USA Today):

The suit was applauded by consumer groups. But USDA, which persuaded Japan to drop its own universal testing program, opposes private testing of cattle. Mad cow incubates for years, USDA says, and "is not detected in young animals," the bulk of the 35 million head of U.S. cattle slaughtered for meat each year.

Mad cow is always fatal in cattle. People can contract a deadly human version of the disease by eating contaminated meats. No U.S.-origin cases are known.

USDA says its tests show a low incidence of mad cow disease, formally named bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in America. Three cases have been found since December 2003.

The Creekstone lawsuit has received some good press from food webloggers. Kate from Accidental Hedonist writes:
Good for Creekstone Farms Premium Beef for understanding what's at stake. The Mad Cow issue is as much of an economic one as a health one, and they get that clearly. From a free market standpoint, it makes sense for a beef distributor to want to be able to label their product as "tested for BSE". Not only would it help the consumers from a health aspect, but it would also be a boon for them financially.
May it Please the Court takes the same view:
What's wrong with this picture? Consider this: A meatpacking company in Kansas wants to test every cow it slaughters for Mad Cow Disease, but if it does, then the USDA has threatened to institute criminal prosecution proceedings. That's right. Go back and read that second sentence again. A private company wants to do more than it's required to do to protect consumers, but the government won't let it....

Am I missing something here?