Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mad Cows And Free Markets

Now this is hilarious:

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. A beef producer in the western state of Kansas, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone should test its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive tests on their larger herds as well.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.

Did you get it? This administration which worships at the altar of free markets doesn't want to let a firm offer better guarantees than other firms offer! It is like telling a firm which wants to raise the quality of its products or their longevity that it can't do that because the other firms will cry.

The last paragraph is especially interesting. A "false positive" means that the test identifies a sample as tainted when it is not. The way this would harm the meat industry would be by making consumers of beef scared for no good reason. They might even stop eating cows. Now consider what happens under the system of minimal testing. There will be hardly any false positives and also hardly any true positives (cases where the tainted meat was actually tested), because hardly any meat will be tested. Should the mad cow disease then appear, well, consumers will soon enough show that this happened, by going mad and by dying.

The whole thing is backwards. There is no law which would require other firms to follow Creekstone's voluntary testing initiative. It is offering consumers something they might want. Usually this is what the conservatives laud the marketplace for. But suddenly more competition is a bad thing and must be stopped. By the government, even.