The June “Editor's Roundup” on private testing offers some conclusions that are somewhat naïve and overly misleading.
Your point that “USDA turned down Creekstone's testing request, claiming only it has the legal authority to control and use BSE testing kits” leaves the impression that if the USDA wasn't so recalcitrant, all one would have to do is to go out and buy a “BSE testing kit” and be all set up to do private testing. The detection methods used by USDA and the other very few authorized state and private labs have all been duly validated in accordance with the regulations by both USDA and FDA. These methods, however, are highly complex and can be expected to be reliable within the limitations of each test only in the hands of highly skilled technicians specifically trained in performing these methods.
Moreover, USDA has sole statutory authority to perform, or authorize to have performed, the needed screening and confirmatory (the “gold standard”) methods used on suspect samples.
If as you state, “Creekstone, which has always pronounced all U.S. beef as safe, responded by filing a civil suit,” has such exacting certitude on their cattle's health, why are they proposing to test all their cattle? Haven't they heard of Murphy's Law?
In my view, Creekstone is doing nothing more through its proposed testing plan than casting unnecessary aspersions on the safety of the U.S. beef supply. It involves much, much more than “free-market entrepreneurship” and “simple product differentiation,” as you describe it.
For the sake of conjecture, let's say, if Creekstone were allowed to perform this testing in its own lab or one they contracted with, there comes a test result that's either suspect or downright positive. Now, what does the technician do? If so inclined, he could “bury” it in that vast wasteland of equivocal “insignificant” test findings.
Or, more properly and legally, he absolutely must tell his boss who must report the results as a reportable disease to the state and federal authorities, even though in all likelihood, because of the extremely low incidence of BSE in this country, the sample is probably no more than a false positive. Thus, Creekstone gains publicity, all of it unwanted — Murphy's Law, again!
If this scenario were to unfold, it wouldn't be a problem only for Creekstone.
In situations when the need for BSE detection or any other important communicable disease may arise, testing and other decisions necessary to protect the public health are best left to the federal and state authorities and the scientific community, not to “free entrepreneurship.”
Marvin O. Maul, DVM
Colorado Springs, CO