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Updates on the US Mad Cow crisis…

  • Reuters reported over the weekend that while the economic impact of the discovery of the nation's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, seems to be leveling off, there is speculation that any additional discoveries of mad cow on US soil could trigger a rise in inflation.

    When mad cow disease was first discovered in Washington State just before Christmas last year, beef prices were hard hit. Consumers, however, seemed not overly concerned with the food safety issue where beef was concerned and there was relatively little impact on consumption.

    The inflation speculation, according to Reuters, is fueled by the fact that this is exactly what happened during the mad cow crisis that hit Europe three years ago. There, meat prices shot up by about 10 percent in 2000-2001, and there was a ripple effect on dairy and other food prices.

    The Bush administration clearly would like to keep inflation in check for lots of reasons - not the least of which is the fact that it is facing a presidential election in November. Analysts seem to feel that this will not be an issue, according to published reports, because meat is a smaller percentage of the consumer price index (CPI) in the US than it is in Europe, and therefore the impact of even additional cases of mad cow would be considerably less.

  • Published reports said that US Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials began slaughtering cows from the Mabton, Washington, herd that was the final home of the Holstein that was discovered to have been infected with the nation's first case of brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease.

    Of the 129 cows being slaughtered, nine have been determined to have come from the same Canadian farm where the Holstein originated. The other 120 have not had their origins determined, but officials believe they also could have come from the same Canadian farm. These cows are part of a 4,000-head herd, the rest of which do not need to be slaughtered because they either were born in Washington State or came there from places other than Canada.

    The slaughtered cows are to be tested for the presence of BSE.

    Ten cows were to be killed on Saturday, 10 on Monday, and then 20 or 30 a day until there were none left to kill.

    These slaughters are in addition to more than 400 calves that were slaughtered last week because one of the them was the offspring of the sick Holstein, which itself was killed in early December.

    It is believed that both the Washington State cow and the cow in Canada that was discovered to have BSE last May probably were infected by the disease before August 1997, when they were calves and before both the US and Canada banned cattle feed that contained parts of cattle, sheep or other cud-chewing animals.

  • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) called for tougher Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate the feed currently given to cattle.

    "The FDA has used its regulatory authority to ban animal feed that carries the prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)," said FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds. "What the FDA needs now is a stronger law because the current situation demands clearer legal authority. Congress needs to pass a law giving FDA clear and specific authority to prohibit the use of any ingredients that may transmit BSE to cattle through animal feed - and to enforce that ban."

    The current regulatory feed ban was instituted in 1997 under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Canada instituted a similar ban at the same time. The recent cases of mad cow disease were found in animals that were born and fed before the ban was instituted in the U.S. and Canada.

    "The feed ban is one of our most powerful weapons to prevent mad cow disease," said Hammonds, "and, most importantly, to prevent it before there is any chance of exposure to humans. Therefore, Congress should give FDA all the legal tools necessary to make this firewall as strong as possible."

  • The Associated Press reports that Canadian ranchers are annoyed that the finger of blame is being pointed at them by the US in the case of the first instance of mad cow disease discovered in the US in a cow that originated in Canada.

    They insist, according to the AP, that "the North American cattle industry is so intertwined that it makes little sense to differentiate between American and Canadian beef." Mad cow, they say, isn't a Canadian problem or a US problem, but must be viewed and dealt with as a North American problem.

  • In a nice bit of irony, on the same day that The New York Times published a story in its Sunday magazine section in which it noted that the news about BSE's first appearance in the US "cracked open a door on the industrial kitchen where America's meat is prepared, and what we glimpsed on the other side was enough to send even the heartiest diner to the vegetarian entree or the fish special," a new survey suggested that the media has overreacted to the incident.

    The survey, commissioned by FMI, said that consumers do not even rank mad cow as one of their top two food safety concerns, and that 21 percent of those polled believed that the media coverage had been "negatively biased."

KC's View:
Big day for the picking on the media.

Guess some days it makes sense to shoot the messenger.