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Voluntary Testing

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Mike

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The Front Gate
Steve Cornett

Now why no voluntary testing?



The owner of the Japanese Sukiya restaurant chain, which specializes in a dish consisting of a bowl of rice covered with seasoned beef, wants the U.S. to prove and explain to Japanese consumers that there is no cow infected with the disease. “The proof for safety is the responsibility of the producer,” he says.

His concern tracks with opinion polls that indicate a considerable degree of concern among Japanese consumers about the possibility of catching bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) if they eat U.S. beef.

This is not about government-sanctioned, nonscientific trade barriers anymore. It is, however, about consumer preferences. We’re not here to argue with USDA about the need for such tests. There is no scientific justification for testing U.S. beef under 20 or even 30 months. It would be a waste of money. But, since when is it the government’s duty to prevent consumers from wasting money? Talk about attacking the underpinnings of the free enterprise system. As often as not, consumer preferences make no sense. Wander into your local department store and consider the array of perfumes for sale. Or, for that matter, consider the popularity of facial piercings and tattoos. They hurt. They are expensive. They expose the victim to a risk of infection or even hepatitis. And it goes without saying that they are ugly. But everybody under 40 seems to have one or more.

Niche markets. It’s like the accountants say: There is no accounting for taste. That is why you have these things called “niche markets.” Some people, for instance, like to think their food is organic or natural. Nobody has convinced me there is any scientific justification for that, but some folks feel better about it. And it’s their money to waste.

USDA allows you to grow natural beef, and call it natural beef. All you have to do is follow a set of rules and regulations the agency has established and you get access to a market the rest of us can’t touch.

The argument—and I’ve made it myself—against allowing such claims is that marketers like to sell “against” the competition. The natural beef producers don’t necessarily claim (in print, anyhow) that their product is safer than generic beef, but they certainly go as far as possible in creating that illusion. Unfortunately, it could easily lead consumers to the notion that if natural beef is more safe, then non-natural beef must not be safe. But for those who think natural is safer, there are a lot of natural alternatives. So beef demand would suffer if the industry ignored that niche. Dumb or not. USDA set up rules and let it happen.

Voluntary BSE testing. It is time the agency does the same with voluntary BSE testing. They had a valid argument against testing when Japan was proposing it as a condition of trade. But that has changed. It is now a question of consumer preference, and USDA should move out of the way and let private enterprise work its magic.

There continues to be a suspicion lurking in my synapses that the real reason USDA didn’t push BSE testing was because the major packers didn’t think they could meet the requirements. The packers don’t have enough space to hang carcasses while BSE tests occur. And they didn’t want to be in the unfortunate position of having sold beef from some beast later identified as having been afflicted with the disease.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), always ready and willing to put principle over practicality, bought into that argument. I’m not suggesting that USDA’s argument about unscientific trade restrictions wasn’t a valid one. Let’s just say it’s over; it no longer applies. There is a difference between a government requiring superfluous tests and consumers wanting superfluous tests.

Design a program. The agency should design a program to allow—yes, I said allow—voluntary testing. The tests should be paid for by the packers or consumers who want the tests. Just like they do now with USDA quality grades or natural beef programs. The tests should, however, be designed by USDA. And most importantly, test results should be controlled by USDA. (I shudder at the thought of a market in which only Tyson knew it was about to announce a positive BSE test).

But testing should be an option, whether it’s scientifically justified or not. We might find that it’s not just the Japanese who would be more comfortable wasting their money on an abundance of caution.

More From Steve

You can read Steve Cornett’s regular Web log at www.beeftoday.com, or call him at (806) 655-9163.
 

frenchie

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Mike said:
The tests should, however, be designed by USDA. And most importantly, test results should be controlled by USDA. .


Ahh come on Boys.... use the Jap test..
 

Sandhusker

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frenchie said:
Mike said:
The tests should, however, be designed by USDA. And most importantly, test results should be controlled by USDA. .


Ahh come on Boys.... use the Jap test..

I say use whatever test the customer asks for.
 

Econ101

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Sandhusker said:
frenchie said:
Mike said:
The tests should, however, be designed by USDA. And most importantly, test results should be controlled by USDA. .


Ahh come on Boys.... use the Jap test..

I say use whatever test the customer asks for.

Until the real science behind BSE is really known. Until then, by not following this policy, the USDA should hold all the responsibility and liability instead of hiding behind a future "we didn't know".
 

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