It's a clear case of a severe conflict of interest, but it's not at all uncommon. A tremendous number of employees at the USDA and even the FDA come straight from the industries these agencies are supposed to regulate. That's just one of the many reasons why both the USDA and FDA fail so miserably at doing their jobs (protecting the public) while succeeding so strongly in promoting the economic interests of their respective industries.
But let's face it: mad cow disease is deadly. And thanks to sickening practices in the beef industry (like using spinal cords in meat processing, feeding chicken litter to cows, "rendering" diseased cows into beef products, and so on), mad cow disease could be in your freezer or refrigerator right now. Eat the wrong food and you, too, will become another death statistic to be denied by the USDA. See, the USDA (with the help of Lisa Harrison) denies there's any problem whatsoever with mad cow disease. To hear them tell it, mad cow is pure fiction. In fact, the USDA doesn't even plan to test the cows for mad cow disease. Imagine that. We know the disease exists in U.S. cows. We know it's deadly. But the USDA won't even mandate testing.
It's not hard to figure out why: the USDA is protecting the profits of industry, not public health. And chances are, some American consumers are going to pay the price for it. My best advice: stop eating cow flesh. Even without mad cow, it's both an unhealthy and inhumane source of food.