The Bush administration can prohibit meatpackers from testing their animals for mad cow disease, a federal appeals court said Friday.
The dispute pits the Agriculture Department, which tests about 1% of cows for the potentially deadly disease, against Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, a Kansas meatpacker that wants to test all of its animals.
Larger meatpackers opposed such testing. Their argument: If Creekstone Farms were to begin advertising that its cows have all been tested, other companies fear that they too would have to conduct the expensive tests.
The Bush administration says the low level of testing reflects the rareness of the disease. Mad cow disease has been linked to more than 150 human deaths worldwide, mostly in Britain. Only three cases have been reported in the U.S., all involving cows, not humans.
A federal judge ruled last year that Creekstone Farms must be allowed to conduct the test because the Agriculture Department could only regulate disease treatment. Because there is no cure for mad cow disease and the test is performed on dead animals, the test is not a treatment, the judge ruled.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned that ruling, saying diagnosis could be considered part of treatment. “And we owe USDA a considerable degree of deference in its interpretation of the term,” Judge Karen L. Henderson wrote.
The case has been sent back to the district court, where Creekstone Farms can make other arguments.