Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (Mad cow disease) in the United States beef industry is one of those issues that either seem to either promote outrage or indifference, depending upon the individual. I certainly fall into the former category, but not because I believe that we are at immediate risk from the disease. Rather, my outrage comes from the fact that recent testing was so badly managed, that we still don’t know whether Mad Cow is an issue here in the States, and the cattle industry (with an able assist from the Government) seems determined to keep us that way.
After the first discovery of Mad Cow in Washington State, way back in 2003, we were promised that the cattle industry would up it’s testing to determine how prevalent BSE was. The USDA started a program to test half of the nation’s 450,000 “downerˮ cows, or cows that could not walk.
However, there were many questions surrounding the testing procedures. Only a little over one half of one percent of the cattle population was tested, of which, none of them were of “healthy” cows. They only tested cows that showed possible symptoms. Downer cows and cows that were aggressive or agitated were tested. But BSE doesn’t make every cow show outward signs of the disease. Cattle can have the disease for months or years before showing any outward symptoms.
Oh, and testing was voluntary and not done randomly. The Agriculture Department’s inspector general found serious flaws in the testing process, and there were many questions surrounding their procedures.
And then, just like that, the USDA claimed that we didn’t have a problem with BSE and seriously reduced the scope of the testing program.
Here is the issue – If the testing was flawed, then the statistics we pulled from the testing are invalid, leaving us at the same point we were back in December of 2003 – not knowing if just how prevalent Mad Cow Disease is or is not.
And just yesterday we find out that we have the Bush Administration fighting “to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease“.
Re-read that previous paragraph and see if that makes any sense.
Why does the government wish to prevent a single meatpacking company (Creekstone Farms – see the back story here) from implementing a perfectly logical response to Mad Cow, both in terms of consumer safety as well as the free-market?
The problem with the question just asked is that there is no good answer. Every response to that question will either sound shallow and unreasoned (“Larger meat companies fear they might have to perform the expensive test” or “widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry”) or too conspiratorial (“The Cattle Industry does not want any bad press to affect the lucrative export business”).
But it’s still a question that deserves an answer. Just like the “What percentage of American cattle has BSE?” deserves an answer as well.