When that sick cow was discovered in Mabton, Wash., in December, carnivores nationwide suddenly had questions about their beef. In the days that followed, Niman Ranch in Oakland, Calif., discovered that its sophisticated data-tracking system was a huge advantage, president Rob Hurlbut says.

Do you think the industry has handled mad cow well?

No. The industry's opposition to the country-of-origin labeling is just one shocking thing they've done. We actually provide farm of origin information on most labels.

What else have the big packers done wrong?

They use a process that strips as much meat from a beef carcass as possible. Though it's economically good, it makes it more likely that the nerve tissue, which is most likely to carry mad cow disease, makes its way into ground beef. So I think the government should say that we are no longer allowing that at all. Period.

You actually want the government to intervene more?

Yes. My biggest concern is that the Department of Agriculture maintain its credibility. The USDA has to go overboard, regardless of the financial implications, to assure consumers that they have safe meat. Start inviting people into the slaughterhouses, so they can see what's going on.

Will this ultimately hurt or help your company?

My gut feeling is that this is going to be good for us, especially our restaurant business. People are realizing, when you sit down and eat, you don't know where the meat in the dumpling comes from. With an incident like this, people are going to ask those questions.