The Agriculture Department has rebuffed a meatpacker's plan to test every animal at its Kansas slaughterhouse for mad cow disease.
The facts are simple, and the politics raw. A super-premium meatpacker wishes to inspect 100% of his animals for mad cow in order to be allowed to export to the lucrative premium beef market Japan.
USDA won't allow it. Why? Two reasons, one ignoble, one comprehensible if mistaken.
First, because the USDA isn't about safe food, or indeed about consumers at all. Nor is it even about the interests of small agribusiness. It's about keeping the Big Farm companies' (read 'bigtime Republican bedfellows') costs down. And they don't want the precedent of 100% testing because that's expensive.
Second, and less evil, is the USDA's desire to avoid setting a precedent that might weaken its hand in upcoming trade negotiations. The administrations claims, and I'm prepared to believe (although with any science claim by this adminstration you have to wonder), that there's no scientific reason to require testing of 100% of healthy looking animals. I can understand that (providing it's true…), although you'd think that even so a real free market administration, if we had one, would allow a system where people who wanted to offer extra safety at a price could do so.
But that wouldn't be this administration: under George Bush you can't get a license to offer certified, tested, mad-cow-free beef even if you want to and think there's a market for it.