Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mad Cow Diplomacy

This is an example of why I prefer getting the hard copy of newspapers rather than reading them online, because I often miss articles when I read the papers online as opposed to when I read the paper version. Below is something that fell through the cracks when I did my sweep of the news early in the morning...

The news story I'm referring to has to do with Mad Cow disease, which is one scary disease. I'm not a scientist, but what follows is my lawyerly understanding of the disease. The scientific name for the disease is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. That's about as science-y as I'm going to get. Basically, the disease results in misshapen or folded proteins that collect in the cow's brain, creating holes. The disease can be transmitted from cow to cow when one cow eats the remains of a tainted cow (cows used to be fed to each other, a practice that has been abandoned/outlawed after the British mad cow scare in the late 90's). There seem to be other ways that it can be transferred, too, but again I'm not a scientist, so I don't know.

While bird flu and other potential pandemics get a lot of attention, this disease is a lot scarier, at least to me. See, at first this disease just represents itself in cows. But, it seems that it can be transferred to humans by a human eating the meat of a tainted cow. And, because the disease is just caused by folded proteins, it's not killed by heating the meat to a certain temperature or anything. More on the science of Mad Cow Disease here (I love Wikipedia!).

Anyway, I've spent way too much time talking about the disease, anyway, it's bad, and it freaks people out. Well, after a mad cow scare in America in 2003 (I believe), Japan closed its borders to foreign beef, and began testing each and every cow in its country, and would only import beef from countries that did the same. Of course, the price of beef skyrocketed in Japan.

So, some American companies want back into the Japanese beef market, especially now that prices have risen so much. One company in particular, Creekstone Farms of Arkansas City, Kansas, proposed that it would test each of its cows so that it would be eligible to export its beef to Japan. Under the 1913 Virus, Serum, and Toxin Act, the FDA forbade the company from conducting such tests, maintaining that the federal government alone had the authority to do so. Our conservative, "small" government, free-market officials, barred a company from testing its own cows because only the government has the authority to do so. The company says that it's lost approximately $100 million by not being able to conduct the tests and export to Japan.

This just doesn't seem right. This post has gotten too long, but if you want to read more about the federal government barring a company from testing its own cows for mad cow disease because it doesn't want to scare the public and because it wants to handle negotiations with Japan instead of allowing individual companies pursue their own economic benefit (and remember, these two things are not mutually exclusive. The federal government could urge Japan to drop the ban and companies could conduct the test in the meantime.), look at these sites (I don't know how much longer they'll be free):
Houston Chronicle
Wall Street Journal
Washington Post

EDIT: My point in writing this was to say that it is wrong for the Bush administration to prevent a private company from attempting to comply with the Japanese standards in order to sell its product there, especially if those standards help to make the American consumer safer in the process.
-B. Hammond


Blogger V. Hammond said...


Incredible post. Do you know if it's only the mad-cow testing that is outlawed? Other testing too?

What a farce.

On another point, let's move to Japan and butcher some cows.


12:42 PM  

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