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USA Today reports this morning that the Bush administration has urged a federal appeals court to stop Creekstone Farms, a Kansas meatpacker, and other companies from testing all of their animals for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. Creekstone already has won the case in the lower courts, but the Justice Department appealed.

Less than one percent of all slaughtered cows are testing for BSE under current federal guidelines. Larger meatpackers also have objected to Creekstone's plans, saying that it could create unfair pressure on them to test all their animals for BSE, which could result in higher costs and, ultimately, higher consumer prices.

The White House opposition to the Creekstone plan is hinged to the notion that broader testing could, according to the USA Today story, "does not guarantee food safety and could result in a false positive that scares consumers."

KC's View:
Or could result in true positives or true negatives that would reassure consumers both in the US and in other nations importing US beef.

It is easy to understand economically why some folks would be against more widespread testing. It might cost some more money…though I’d wager that if you asked consumers, they'd be willing to pay a few more cents per pound for that kind of reassurance.

But it is impossible to understand this point of view from an ethical and public policy perspective. Wider testing is good because it gives both the industry and consumers more information. More information is good because it allows people to make more informed decisions. Better-informed decisions lower the risk of people getting wick and dying.

And yet, this logic seems to be anathema to the Bush administration and the meatpackers that are fighting Creekstone.

Somebody ask McCain, Obama and Clinton what they think about this. Because their responses won't just tell you what they think about mad cow disease. It'll tell you what they think about a lot of issues from a public policy an ethical perspective.