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In a page one story this morning, The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is prohibiting the private testing of beef for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease - despite the fact that USDA does only limited testing on its own.

USDA's concern is that if private laboratories start testing beef for mad cow disease, which conceivably would allow companies to market their products as "safe," it would confuse consumers. The USDA also reportedly is concerned that private labs might identify "false positives," creating needless panic.

However, according to the WSJ, consumers are clamoring for private testing.

"The USDA's qualms about allowing private testing reflects the agency's sometimes conflicting missions to promote the $27 billion cattle industry at the same time it is supposed to protect consumers from bad meat," the WSJ reports. "Indeed, the USDA is respecting the wishes of most big meatpackers, which want a tight lid on mad-cow testing. The USDA also has a vested interest in keeping testing out of the hands of private companies, since their work could challenge the Bush administration's position that mad cow isn't a problem in the US."
KC's View:
Note to the USDA - mad cow disease is a problem, in the US and elsewhere. Some if it is real, some of it is perceptual. But it is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

After all, you have a family out in the Pacific Northwest suing QFC for not being vigilant enough in getting mad cow-infected beef off the market. Y'think that's the only lawsuit that's going to get filed? Y'think this isn’t going to be a growing problem?

We think that retailers, who are on the front lines of this issue, ought to challenge the USDA's position. Do what's necessary to get private testing of your beef, publicize the results, and let the government challenge the effort. There is absolutely no downside in looking out for your customers.