Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ethical Questions in the Handling of BSE in The US- Olivia Cvitanic

As Professor Latto discussed in class today, the compensation for farmers whose flock of sheep or cattle are killed because they have tested positive for BSE (Scarpie for sheep) or are suspected of being infected is about 50%. Not only is this compensation simply not enough financially, but many farmers who own their own, smaller livestock farms suggest that it’s emotionally difficult too. These farmers claim they share a “special stewardship relationship” with their animals. While that particular argument is not so convincing for me, the lack of compensation for farmers is a real problem. If the government wants to seriously stop the spread of BSE then they must help farmers who have invested all their time in raising these animals only to see them killed at a loss to their pocketbooks. This situation has led many farmers in the U.K. and the U.S. to resort to some questionable ethics in terms of allowing possibly unhealthy cows to be killed for human consumption.

In March 2001, farmers in the United States became particularly agitated over a case in Vermont where many cows and sheep were slaughtered on suspicion of disease, but were not tested first. Farmers claimed this seizure of livestock on the part of the USDA was “an abuse of government power” for which they should be “ashamed of themselves.” The farmers claim that there was “no convincing evidence was ever put forward” that scientifically suggested that these animals were indeed infected. However, the USDA had the authority to and did kill the livestock instead of testing them first. Perhaps simply killing the animals and paying the farmers “compensation” is more effective? Definitely not for the farmers, and I would assume it’s less expensive for the government to slaughter all the suspected animals rather than test them, which is, in my opinion, wrong and most definitely an abuse of power. The article from which I’m citing, entitled “Slaughter on suspicion: Vermont” asks why the government could not simply use the new and highly accurate Prionics tests. Though the tests take 3-4 hours to run, United States farmers argue that France does 20,000 tests a week on its livestock. Why can’t the United States assume similar costs and, more importantly, similar responsibility?

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