The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. A beef producer in the western state of Kansas, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone should test its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive tests on their larger herds as well.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.

The dangers of false positives from mass testing are not trivial, as evidenced in discussions of mass-testing for HIV. Nonetheless, this is hardly the same thing. As I’ve noted before, food testing is something we’re not doing well, and we ought to do better. The meat industry people are just afraid of competition from “real food” producers and the like, and don’t want to give them an opening.

I mean, do we want China to be our model?