6-27-05 - 1


Once again, the federal government is putting the profit of big business over the wishes of the free market and small business, and even the lives of its citizens. The issue is beef. The issue of beef safety itself is not very significant, I don't mean to overblow it, but the actions of the fed are so ridiculous, it's a good example of negligence and profiteering. Yes, federal testing for Mad Cow is poor and not up to the standards of any other 1st world nation, which has led to most of them banning beef from the US. That's actually not nearly as big of an issue as E. Coli and more generally the condition of inspections and slaughterhouses. The USDA is woefully under-funded to be able to conduct inspections, and their hands are tied if they do find problems; unsanitary plants receive no action, the only thing the USDA ever does is to issue recalls after the fact (they have to have concrete proof of an actual E. Coli contamination, otherwise the business can sue them for lost profit). The recalls require consumers to identify and return the beef, the grocery stores don't do it, which in practice is never done, so basically the contaminated meat goes into peoples' stomaches. Consumers in America have been falsely taught that E. Coli is just a fact of life, and you should cook the hell out of your food. That's not true, and countries with proper inspections and rules have a near zero rate of E. Coli incidents.

That's just background. The ridiculous bit is this - meat packing companies and meat processors and ranchers are forbidden by law from improving the situation. It is illegal to do more testing of your beef than the USDA standard, even if you want your beef to be safer, it's illegal. It's certainly illegal to label your beef as being at any kind of higher safety standard. It is illegal to mark packages of beef with their places of origin and processing. You can mark it with a brand name which might imply a location, but in fact that "Harris Ranch" beef you buy could be grown in Mexico and processed at a major ConAgra plant. The point of all this is to prevent consumers from being able to make their own choice for safer beef. The reason that the government gives is that these labels could create a false fear that lower grade beef is not safe. Of course the real reason for these laws is to protect the profits of major agribusiness. The losers are the smaller agribusinesses and of course the American people. Many small ranches have gone out of business or totally changed their business, because they made super-premium beef primarily for export to other countries, and now they are not allowed to do the extra testing those countries demand, and are not allowed to label their product as having been tested to those higher standards.

E Coli in the US
Inspectors do nothing about unsanitary processing
USDA lets E Coli into the market
Brittish report on E Coli

BTW Tom rightly points out there are all sorts of other horrible things we do with beef - rbST (growth hormone), antibiotics, use of downers, feeding animals to animals, etc. etc. but that's not even so much the point. Personally I'd like to see most of that stuff banned, but if you want to be a Laissez Faire free market guy, you could say that it's okay if some producers use that stuff, but at least let me choose to buy beef that doesn't use that shit.

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old rants