business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is delaying action on a proposal that would restrict the ingredients allowed in animal feed, which was originally made after the identification of a single case of mad cow disease in the Pacific Northwest late last year.

The official rationale for the delay is that the implementation of such rules should not take place until after the November presidential election. However, there are critics who believe that the delay is just a precursor to the Bush administration deciding to kill the proposed restrictions – after all, it already had slowed down consideration of the rules, and President Bush has been endorsed by the formerly nonpartisan National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which opposes the rules.

Indeed, the NYT notes that some critics see this as part of a broader pattern. The paper writes, “Industry lobbyists and their critics say that the re-election of President Bush would probably lead to the adoption of some regulations favorable to industry and the rejection or watering down of others that industry considers objectionable. Consumer groups, environmental organizations and food safety experts, meanwhile, say that delays could lead to significantly weaker rules that could increase prices on some products, reduce safety and relax environmental protections.” And everyone agrees that politically, second-term presidents can do things that first term presidents cannot.
KC's View:
Without judging the broader political questions, we have to say that this story simply doesn’t jibe with other stories that have emerged recently.

For example, Japan has for the past year refused to allow the import of US beef because it doesn’t feel that US testing procedures are tough enough; Japan tests every cow in that country going into the food chain, and has found a dozen cases of mad cow disease, while the US tests a small fraction on its cattle and has found just a single case. But there was a story last week saying that Japan was considering the relaxation of restrictions…maybe the government there will change its mind in response to the NYT story.

It seems to us that all these decisions and delays and lobbying efforts are connected to economics, not science. And we continue to believe that the discovery of more made cow disease in the US is a matter of “when” not “if”…and that when this happens, it will raise serious doubts about both industry and government.