You couldn't throw a rock this week without hitting a happy economist, or at least an upbeat economic report.
For starters, employers added 288,000 jobs to their payrolls in April. That brings the 2004 payroll increase to some 867,000 jobs. Much of that improvement has come in the blue collar sector, where factory orders and construction spending have registered huge gains. Productivity at America's companies also is on the rise.
Even so, financial markets remain troubled by the impending interest rate hike, and warnings from Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan that America's soaring budget deficit is a major obstacle to the country's long-term economic stability.
In farm country, meanwhile, food safety remains a front-burner issue. For beef producers, it's sparked everything from industry squabbling over livestock testing to lawsuits against the government.
According to R-CALF USA, a livestock trade group, USDA was quietly allowing shipments of Canadian beef that are at a higher risk of carrying BSE than boneless cuts of beef. R-CALF alleges USDA was under pressure from Canada and large multi-national meat packing corporations. On April 26, a federal district judge granted R-CALF's request for a temporary restraining order to immediately halt the expansion of beef imports from Canada. R-CALF claims the judge based his order not only on the risks that beef from Canada could pose to U.S. consumers, but also on USDA's failure to complete its own rulemaking process on the issue.
USDA is already under fire after a cow in Texas was not tested last week even though it showed signs of a possible central nervous system disorder. Instead, the animal was sent to rendering, causing big concerns from the Food and Drug Administration, one of the government agencies responsible for food safety. Indeed, White House officials are starting to question why USDA failed to run a BSE test on the cow, as standard procedures require.
USDA claims it doesn't know why the animal was not tested and says it is looking into the matter. The agency went on to report the rendered product from the animal did not enter the food chain, presenting no risk to human health. In addition, FDA late Tuesday said all of the rendered material from the cow had been tracked down and is being held in Texas. It also specified that the material will be permitted only in swine feed.
On June 1, USDA says inspectors will increase the number of cattle tested for mad cow disease to help reassure Americans the meat supply is safe and to win back export markets.