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USDA Blocks Major Natural Beef Company, Creekstone, from Testing for Mad Cow Disease

A ranching and meat-processing company in Kansas wants to test all its cattle for mad cow disease at its own expense. The Bush administration won't let the firm do it. Oh, but that's not all. If the company tries to buy the $20 testing kits, the feds will treat such a transaction as an illegal purchase of a controlled substance.

We wish we were making this up, but we're not. Talk about mad cow, this is crazy people. It's also an intrusive government abusing an old law.

In 1913, when cholera was decimating hog herds, scam artists were selling fake serums to farmers. Congress responded with the Viruses, Serums, Toxins, Anti-Toxins and Analogous Products Act. It gave the federal government authority to regulate diagnostic testing devices for farm animals.

The Bush administration rediscovered this law when the Kansas company, Creekstone Farms, announced plans to test its entire herd for mad cow disease. The company was willing to go far and beyond the government's test regimen to reassure its customers in places such as Japan.

Private companies make these test kits and there is nothing dangerous about them. Still, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says ranchers such as Creekstone Farms can't buy them.

Creekstone Farms is a victim of a much larger debate over the nation's limited testing of its beef supply. The USDA tests about 1 percent of the nation's beef cattle for mad cow disease. That sampling, the government and large meatpacking companies say, is plenty. Many other nations, especially those that import our beef, test a far greater percentage of their herds. Japan requires 100percent testing.

Creekstone Farms once sold its high-end Angus beef (no growth hormones, no antibiotics) to Japan. Now it can't because of this mad cow disease testing dispute between Japan and the Bush administration. Nor can Creekstone Farms voluntarily test 100percent of its cattle, because the USDA has cut off the supply of thetest kits.

In business, the customer is always right. The Bush administration is wrong to deny Creekstone's customers - whether in Topeka or in Tokyo - access to tested beef. So, Creekstone is suing the USDA.

The administration likes to tout "free market" solutions to big problems. Creekstone came up with a good one. It's crazy not to let the firm pursue it.