Going for maximum shock effect and maximum price

The USDA started off this week with a historic recall after an investigation revealed violation of food safety regulations in a California meat processing plant. The plant had been violating USDA processing code by not calling on USDA veterinarians if cattle fell down and could not get back up before they where slaughtered, but after the mandatory inspection had given them a clear bill of health. There is no doubt that the plant was in violation of the code of food safety.

The Humane Society has known about this for six weeks, but instead of releasing the data immediately so that USDA could take action, they sat on the exposure until they had enough material for a documentary. They want USDA to ban all so-called downer cattle — cattle that cannot stand at the time of slaughter — from the food supply. The current process is for USDA veterinarians to diagnose the animal to decide if the inability to stand is due to non-pathogen injuries such as torn ligaments or broken legs. The animal has already passed the health inspection before this time.

The USDA is, of course, using this to ask for more funding for more inspectors like any good little bureaucracy will do. This follows the public choice theory that bureaucracies will grow if they can, yet the agency’s regulatory regime did not fail in this instance; it worked.

If either one of the two groups gets its will on this issue, one thing will happen: Meat will become even more expensive. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I am opposed to regulation that increases the cost of food, because it hurts the poorest members of our society who are already struggling to get proper nutrition.

The price of meat is already high because the ethanol craze has driven up the price of corn. Corn is commonly used in animal feed because it has traditionally been a cheap source of energy. With the increase in corn prices, farmers are seeking alternative feed sources. I find it amusing that processed food, such as cheese curls and candy bars are cheaper than feed grade grains. It is a great case of subsidies turning a market on its head.