Pork, Poultry Industries Concerned About BSE Incident

US - New concerns about U.S. beef safety don't offer any glee to producers of pork and poultry - they figure Americans' concerns about one food can easily translate to suspicions about others, reports the Associated Press.
calendar icon 30 December 2003
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"This is not good for chicken," said Bill Roenigk, an official with the National Chicken Council. "Consumers should be and are concerned about their food supply. Anything that jeopardizes consumer confidence in the food supply is not good for us."

The beef industry took an early hit after an initial diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, in a dairy cow slaughtered in Washington state earlier this month. British scientists confirmed the diagnosis on Thursday.

The largest importers of U.S. beef - Japan, Mexico and South Korea have halted shipments, while others imposed temporary bans.

But an even bigger issue for U.S. agriculture will be how deeply Americans' confidence is shaken in the safety of the overall meat supply.

"It's just anybody's guess," said Jon Caspers, president of the National Pork Producers Council and a hog farmer in Swaledale, Iowa. "Markets don't deal with these things very often. It is hard to predict."

Mad cow disease, which eats holes in the brains of cattle, appeared in Britain in 1986. It spread through countries in Europe and Asia, prompting massive destruction of herds and decimating the European beef industry.

Humans can contract a fatal form of the disease by eating infected cow tissue.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has said there is no danger to the food supply because muscle cuts of meat, such as steaks and roasts "have almost no risk." She said dangerous portions of the Washington state cow, including its brain and spinal column, were removed.

The mad cow scare hit just as chicken and pork producers had seen prices improve in August and September, in tandem with higher beef prices attributed to the popularity of high-protein diets like the Atkins diet.

It was "sort of like the water in the harbor lifting all the boats," Roenigk said.

Now, concerns about food safety could have a negative effect for all producers, said Mike Ovesen, executive director of the Kentucky Pork Producers.

"It's not even going to help the apple industry," he said. "Although, I'm sure everything is contained and everything is going to be fine. I still think we've got the safest food supply in the world."

One industry did expect a boon - organic beef, which comes from animals fed only milk, grasses and grains from birth to slaughter.

Mad cow disease is believed to be spread through cattle feed containing protein or bone meal from infected cows or sheep. Although the government banned feeding cattle such products in 1997, organic food advocates say the law has loopholes and is poorly enforced.

Meat producers remained optimistic that the impact of the mad cow discovery would be limited and that consumers will retain their confidence in the food supply.

Charles Reeves, an independent hog farmer in South Carolina, predicted customers will return to their normal meat-purchasing habits after a few weeks.

"Everybody's overreacting," he said. "I'm not going to stop eating it."

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 29th December 2003

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