Looks like the Mad Cow scare has brought on much-needed regulatory reforms in the beef industry. As the Times notes:
…some large American companies that process and sell beef had already abandoned those more controversial practices, which had been a rallying point for food safety advocates since mad cow disease appeared overseas nearly two decades ago. While a schism developed in the industry, the current crisis reveals how government regulators sided with companies that adhered to those methods of operation.
This touches on a larger point, one which many have made before: There are high-road and low-road approaches between which companies choose how to make a profit. The high-road includes greater investment in human capital, quality control, investments in local community, and such. It has benefits for workers, capital, and consumers, but has a great deal of difficulty competing with low-roading firms. In earlier decades, a regulatory government and an empowered labor movement helped pave the high-road – now, both are in need of revival. But Mad Cow disease viscerally illustrates the failures of the low-road system. An argument that manufacturers who kill their customers will be punished with decreased sales, while attractive in a college Economics course, depends first on the premise that there’s an acceptable number of preventable deaths and second on the contention that consumers have accessible to them the information necessary to determine which meat is safe and which is not. It’s time to reject both.