Last week their was a recall of 143 million pounds of beef in the USA. Lets take a short systemic view at what is going on. The public has an interest in a safe food supply which is difficult to enforce through caveat emptor (buyer beware). So this is a natural situation for government regulation (to protect the public interest) – plus it relates to public health which is another natural for government regulation.
The USDA regulates the industry and puts in place rules as new threats emerge. So a few years ago they instituted rules that if an animal can’t walk after the USDA pre-death inspection they be re-inspected “largely as a precaution against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease .” It seems hard to argue with that plan. If the pressures to maximize profits (assuring every cow is processed) exceed the desire to take precautions to ensure the safety of customers the risk of losing the trust of consumers is great.
There have been several instances, that have been made public, which call into question how effective the system is at preventing self interest from endangering the food supply. That then calls into question the safety of all meat that is part of that system. Many in the industry seem not to realize that they will be judged by the failures of any in the industry. And in my view, it is in their interests to have strong protections industry-wide.
The export market for meat is large. For political reasons some countries aim to protect local farmers and ranchers (the USA is a huge subsidizer of farmers and ranchers – Sugar Industry Quotas). And when the system continually shows that bad practices are allowed to continue it makes it a very easy decision to not allow the import of meat. Why would a country want to import food from a system that fails to follow food safety standards (especially if politically that is what they want to do – this provides them a pretty darn good reason to do what they want).