Friday, June 13, 2008

More on US Beef

Paul Krugman writes about implications of the South Korean reaction. I recommend the op-ed.
He basically argues that free-market ideology and crony capitalism has led to a deplorable state at the FDA,which in part led to the crisis.
Thus, when mad cow disease was detected in the U.S. in 2003, the Department of Agriculture was headed by Ann M. Veneman, a former food-industry lobbyist. And the department’s response to the crisis — which amounted to consistently downplaying the threat and rejecting calls for more extensive testing — seemed driven by the industry’s agenda.

One amazing decision came in 2004, when a Kansas producer asked for permission to test its own cows, so that it could resume exports to Japan. You might have expected the Bush administration to applaud this example of self-regulation. But permission was denied, because other beef producers feared consumer demands that they follow suit.

When push comes to shove, it seems, the imperatives of crony capitalism trump professed faith in free markets.

Eventually, the department did expand its testing, and at this point most countries that initially banned U.S. beef have allowed it back into their markets. But the South Koreans still don’t trust us. And while some of that distrust may be irrational — the beef issue has become entangled with questions of Korean national pride, which has been insulted by clumsy American diplomacy — it’s hard to blame them.

The ironic thing is that the Agriculture Department’s deference to the beef industry actually ended up backfiring: because potential foreign buyers didn’t trust our safety measures, beef producers spent years excluded from their most important overseas markets.


To go even deeper into the problems our world food system, might I recommend this article from the New Yorker as a start.

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