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USDA's Obstruction of Universal Mad Cow Testing by Kansas Company is Backfiring

Story & News analysis: Creekstone gains sharp edge in the spin battle for
public opinion
April 21, 2004
Daniel Yovich

The mainstream media may have overlooked the most significant development in
the increasingly pitched battle between those who support and those who are
fighting Creekstone Farms' efforts to voluntarily test all of its product
for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Speaking at the beginning of a Monday teleconference hosted by the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association - an event scheduled on the heels of Sunday's
New York Times news story and editorial about the Creekstone issue - U.S.
Premium Beef CEO Steve Hunt leveled with reporters about the real reason
USDA and the larger segments of the industry oppose the Creekstone
initiative: It comes down to dollars and cents.

If Creekstone is allowed to test, Hunt said, it would likely cause a
"domino effect" where the nation's major processors would have no choice but
to follow suit. The cost to the industry, Hunt said, could be $1 billion
per year, and Hunt said he believes that cost would not be readily absorbed
by consumers.

For weeks, the Agriculture Department and some of the trade associations
have tried to diffuse Creekstone's arguments by stressing that the Arkansas
City, Kan.-based processor's plan is not scientifically sound. But if a
stream of recent editorial and opinion pieces from newspapers big and small
are any gauge of that strategy's success, it would seem that line of
thinking has backfired.

An editorial in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune - a newspaper not known as a font
of liberalism - supported the Creekstone argument, noting that if foreign
buyers want to pay and domestic producers are ready to sell on their terms,
why in the world is the U.S. government standing in the way?

Tuesday's Los Angeles Times published an op-ed piece by George Washington
University law professor Jonathan Turley, which noted that USDA "may be
correct that testing every animal in the U.S. is unnecessary and not

But Turley also argued that Creekstone should be allowed to test, if, for
no other reason, to find out what the market will bear, noting that the
current USDA position is an affront to anyone who believes in the free
market system.

"It's as if the Department of Transportation refused to allow Volvo to add
air bags just to keep the pressure off other carmakers," Turley said.

An editorial in Tuesday's Salt Lake Tribune, whose readership is decidedly
conservative by national standards, took out the heavy lumber to whack USDA.
The editorial concluded that the "USDA action is an insult to consumers in
Japan, and in Utah, who will be denied the option of voting with their
grocery dollar and supporting food-safety standards that go beyond those
required by government."

Creekstone also won support from columnists Tuesday at the Philadelphia
Inquirer and Wisconsin's Capital Times.

Conversely, USDA and the trade associations' positions have been shut out
from the nation's opinion pages this week, with news searches failing to
find a single column in support of the agency's or the industry's position.

Creekstone CEO John Stewart told that the company's
editorial presence is not the result of a coordinated public relations
campaign orchestrated by an outside firm.

"It's just me, my phone and my laptop," Stewart said.

That said, it's likely U.S. consumers will see some rebuttals penned by USDA
or the trade associations published later this week, justifying why it is
not prudent to allow Creekstone to test all of its product.