The USDA has appealed a district court decision that would allow meatpackers to conduct their own tests for mad cow disease, alleging that such testing would only create “false assurances.” The original plaintiff, Creekstone Farms, wants to test all of its cattle for mad cow but the USDA has prevented it from buying the testing kits.
As we wrote a year ago, when the district court decision was handed down, the current USDA testing scheme for mad cow tests only the cattle that the USDA has dubbed “high risk,” which ends up being less than one percent of America’s beef. Creekstone Farms claimed that it has lost business in Japan and South Korea due to the mad cow scare in the U.S. a few years ago, and that it would like to reassure its domestic and international customers by testing all of its cattle. To that end, the company built its own testing center and was prepared to begin testing its beef, but the USDA, which regulates the sale of mad cow testing kits, blocked the sale. The lower court case turned on an interpretation of the Virus-Serum-Toxin Act, which regulates, among other things, products “intended for use in the treatment of domestic animals.” The district court pointed out that there is no treatment or cure for mad cow disease, and the tests are only performed on dead animals, thus the tests should not be regulated by the USDA under this act.
For its part, the meatpacking lobby (“Big Meat”) opposes Creekstone Farms, citing fears that if Creekstone tests all its beef, consumers will force other meatpackers to do so, leading to more expensive beef.