Meat Eaters Mull Options
Amid Mad Cow Fears
By Michael Flaherty

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Though he doesn't like the thought of it, Willie Fagan is considering a serious change in his diet now that mad cow disease has entered the United States.
"I'm about ready to become a damn vegetarian," Fagan said while seated at a New York City McDonald's restaurant on Wednesday.
Fagan's anti-beef sentiment came a day after the United States Agriculture Department announced the nation's first-ever case of mad cow disease.
Although the deadly disease was traced to only a single dairy cow in Washington state, concern is mounting.
Mad cow disease devastated the British beef industry in the 1990s and has been linked to about 130 human deaths, mostly in Britain.
Many American meat eaters brushed off Tuesday's announcement. But some, like Fagan, weren't willing to take any chances. For now, Fagan said he's opting for fish filet and fries over his Big Mac preference.
"Even if the odds are astronomical, it could happen," Fagan said.
The "it" he was referring to was the possibility of dying from the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Scientists believe people can contract a form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease known as vCJD from eating beef products infected by BSE, such as diseased brain or spinal column material.
USDA spokesman Ed Loyd recommended that consumers avoid this "high risk material" but he added that "our confidence in the food supply remains very high."
Jason Forgham also has high confidence in the U.S. food chain at the moment. Forgham recently moved to New York City from England, where farmers were forced to destroy about 3.7 million cattle in the 1990s trying to rid the food chain of BSE-infected material.
"I've been eating mad cow meat for seven years," Forgham joked.
He was serious, however, about BSE changing his meat-eating ways. Forgham never eats meat close to the bone.
Forgham said he wasn't worried about a British-style BSE outbreak happening in the United States.
But Melissa Daughtry was.
"I'm kind of scared to eat meat right now," said Daughtry, a student from Raleigh, North Carolina.
She promised that any beef touching her plate for now will have to be well done, a sentiment shared by Beth Scott of Albany, New York.
"I always order well-done burgers," Scott said, adding that the mad cow case wouldn't scare her off of meat.
Although many lunch goers shared Scott's indifference, news of the disease hit the U.S. beef and restaurant industry hard on Wednesday.
Japan and South Korea, two of the biggest buyers of U.S. beef, immediately halted imports as a precaution, and others followed suit. The stock of McDonald's Corp. tumbled more than 5 percent in New York Stock Exchange trading on Wednesday, a sell-off that wiped out about $1.7 billion in market capitalization -- in spite of McDonald's statement that the mad cow case has no connection to the company or its suppliers.
Shares of U.S. meatpackers also plummeted.
Yet despite the widespread concern, many meat lovers like Dino Yordan plan on keeping to their diet.
Yordan, seated at Tad's Steak House in Times Square, said it was too early for him to steer away from meat.
"At the moment, I'm not going to change any of my eating habits. Not just yet," Yordan said.


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