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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Sunday, April 18, 2004
Posted 9:56 PM by Joshua Claybourn
Going mad over mad cow
I'm really angered by an Agriculture Dept. decision to prevent a meatpacker from testing all of his cattle for mad cow disease. Here's the initial AP story and a more lengthy NY Times piece. The government's argument is that by allowing one meatpacker to offer better assurance, the free market (and the invisible hand) might force other meatpackers to do so as well, by virtue of consumer demands. "Certifying some beef for Japan as disease-free, the department said, might confuse American consumers into thinking that untested beef was not safe."

This is a clear and undeniable case of government intervention preventing the market to run its course in a manner that would actually improve product quality. The cattle industry is simply holding back on progress and consumer demand through government intervention in a manner not all that uncommon from the days of Communist Russia. Terry Stokes, a meat industry executive, said, "If you let one company step out and do that, other companies would have to follow," at considerable expense. Can you imagine drug companies 50 years ago sitting around saying, "If you let one company step out and test drugs for side effects, other companies would have to follow. The Health Dept. must prevent that sort of assurance." The idea is ludicrous on its face. (Hat tip TILB)

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