business news in context, analysis with attitude

There are new developments in the case of the first instance of mad cow disease identified on US soil, which was found in Washington State just before Christmas. The disease has been widespread in Europe and Japan and has been linked to about 153 human deaths, 143 in Britain and 10 elsewhere.

  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported yesterday that DNA testing had confirmed that the infected Holstein cow originated in Canada - specifically from a dairy farm in Alberta.

  • Federal workers yesterday began the process of slaughtering a herd of calves that included the offspring of the infected Holstein. The reason the entire herd was being killed - officials aren't sure which calf was born to the sick cow.

  • A new study by the NPD Group says that while 72 percent of Americans said they were concerned about mad cow disease in the wake of the first discovery of the malady on American soil, 74 percent of those polled say they plan to eat the same number of hamburgers in the coming month that they did last month.

  • The Contra Costa Times reported that mad cow has tossed a curve to Safeway, which has just launched a new private label brand meat, Rancher's Reserve beef.

    Just last month, Safeway CEO Steve Burd told investors that Rancher's Reserve has increased beef sales so much that "if I were to show you the beef numbers themselves, they would scare you."

    The bad news has been that when questions about mad cow are raised, it can hurt the entire category. But the good news is that because Safeway has focused its attention on branded meat - which, by its very definition, has greater clarity in terms of source and safety - it is able to weather the crisis with greater ease than chains depending on meat perceived as a commodity.

KC's View:
Actually, we have a note about a comment we made yesterday, when we asked why the herd of calves was being slaughtered without being tested for mad cow disease.

Several MNB users wrote in to point out that because it takes several years for mad cow to become evident, testing them now would be a fruitless enterprise. And, they said, there have been reports that samples are being taken so that testing can be done down the line, when the disease would become evident.

Which actually sounds like it makes sense, even if we remain generally unimpressed with the infrastructure set up to maintain records of where the nation's cows have been and where they originated.