Mad Cow Patties

There’s an interesting discussion on the fallout from the Mad Cow case over at John Cole’s Balloon Juice. Both sides make good points. Anyone looking to score political gain from this situation is likely to end up with a foot in the manure. Clearly the Mad Cow discovery is bad news for Bush, but it’s not exactly good news for Howard Dean and the Democrats.

From Dean’s comments on the matter

The former governor, whose state has a large dairy cow population, said the Bush administration failed to aggressively set up a tracking system that would allow the government to quickly track the origins of the sick cow, quarantine other animals it came in contact with and assure the marketplace the rest of the meat supply is safe.

“What we need in this country is instant traceability,” he said.

Dean said such a system should have been set up quickly after the mad cow scare that devastated the British beef industry in the mid- to late-1990s. The Bush administration was still devising its plan when the sick cow was slaughtered Dec. 9, and on Friday the government still hadn’t determine the infected animal’s origins.

“This just shows the complete lack of foresight by the Bush administration once again,” Dean said. “This is something that easily could be predicted and was predicted.”Dean is reaching here as anyone who can count should note that Clinton was President during most of the years since the initial outbreak in the U.K. Funny how he forgets to blame Clinton. What Clinton and Bush have most likely realized is that agbiz interests have deep lobbying pockets and numerous Congressmen carrying their torch. There is a reason that farming subsidies rarely are decreased.

Instant traceability would be nice, but would have had no effect on the foreign boycotts of U.S. product. Nations have enacted immediate bans on our beef product just has we have done with Canadian beef and British beef before that. Whether or not we could instantly identify the history of the infected animal would have ZERO impact on bans. Immediate bans are a politically easy and popular mechanism to quell domestic uneasiness. Being able to block imports for good cause is also popular because it makes money for domestic producers; just ask US beef producers coming off their best year ever partially due to the ban on Canadian imports.

Dean said as a result the beef industry will suffer enormously. Officials said Friday 90 percent of the foreign markets for American beef have been closed off because of the announcement. Asked if he supported a federal economic aid package for the industry, Dean said: “The answer is, yes, of course I do. The question is how much? And we don’t know how much yet.”

Dean said the government’s first job, before the economic damage is calculated, must be to “close down that impact as soon as possible” by tracing the cow’s origins and credibly reassuring the American public and the world that the rest of the U.S. beef supply is safe.Now I’m not trying to pick on Dean, it’s just that he is the first of the major candidates that I’ve seen to make the call for a federal bailout. Remember what a cluster fuck the airline bailout was? This will be much worse…

Taxpayers are already supporting the cattle industry and farming in general with a byzantine myriad of federal programs. As many have pointed out the industry has lobbied against the kinds of controls now being called for, so a good case could be made for the fact that they made their bed and should now lie in it.

The other tidbit that’s coming out is that the cow was probably from Canada and was likely born before the United States and Canada in 1997 banned certain feed that is considered the most likely source of infection.

As a doctor, Dean said he was more concerned about the impact of the announcement on the U.S. economy than on public health. “The truth is this is going to have a minimal health impact,” he said.

On this point he’s completely on target.

In closing all I can say is that if anyone mentions the possibility of a federal handout to the cattle industry to make up for this “crisis”, remind them that we’re already doing our part to keep the prices of beef and milk artificially high via federal programs and trade agreements.

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  1. Geoff Dean December 28, 2003
  2. Kevin December 29, 2003
  3. Morpheus December 30, 2003
  4. Don Smith January 1, 2004