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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 14 - 20, 2004


Mad policy, mad cows

The U.S. government should have taken better, bigger, and bolder steps to protect the nation’s food supply from mad cow disease in America.

Mad cow disease, a brain-wasting disease that may be transmitted to humans, first appeared in 1997 in Britain. Then, it appeared a year ago in Canada. The U.S. government had six precious years to ensure the food supply—but took only the cheapest and easiest steps.

Scientists determined that spine and brain matter from sick animals that was included in animal feed was the transmission agent for the horrible disease.

American reaction was to stop imports of beef from both countries, to ban feed containing certain animal parts and to test a paltry number of animals going to slaughter for the disease.

Beyond that, America’s leaders did nothing, preferring to believe half-measures would protect the nation from a disease that can take up to 10 years to manifest itself.

The federal government adopted this mad approach even though technology existed to develop a computerized system to track every cow from birth to the slaughterhouse. Computer chips implanted in every animal, or sturdy ear tags with bar codes like the ones on every grocery store item, could have been used to track age, health, feed exposure and the whereabouts of every animal destined for grocery shelves.

It didn’t happen.

It didn’t happen because America was mad at government. It was bewitched by a "free" market that was sending Wall Street stock prices into the stratosphere.

Budget slashing and tax cutting were the order of the day because, as politicians told us emphatically, taxes are "your money." They insisted citizens shouldn’t have to send "our money" to Washington, where, they insisted, it would be wasted.

At the same time we were assured that industrial agriculture and other businesses could best take care of themselves if expensive government regulation were removed or reduced.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the appearance of mad cow disease within our borders, it’s that it can be dangerous to take government for granted.

When times are good and commerce proceeds apace, it’s easy to complain about government inefficiency and bloated bureaucracies.

What’s hard is to support leaders wise enough to cut fat bureaucracies while growing other necessary services—food inspection and testing, for example—at the same time.

The sick cow that was ground into burger showed us with fearful certainty the consequences of poorly regulated global food distribution. The batch of burger in question was distributed not only in the Northwest and California, but as far away as Guam.

Ranchers, dairy farmers, feedlot owners and global food wholesalers failed to protect America’s food supply. Their work to extract every last dime from every last cow without government interference backfired on everyone.

With frightful certainty, they demonstrated why we need government to organize and do the things people cannot or will not do on their own.



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.