- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
U.S. government said on Tuesday it was moving immediately to tighten oversight
of the $27 billion cattle industry and boost consumer confidence after
the first case of mad cow disease in the United States.
- The moves -- some now endorsed by a once-reluctant industry
that is still reeling from the sudden loss of a $3 billion a year beef
export market -- came after a fourth straight day of sharply lower cattle
prices in U.S. markets.
- The USDA is investigating the cause of the first U.S.
case of mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE). The USDA announced on Dec. 23 that the disease was found in a Holstein
dairy cow in Washington state.
- Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told a press conference
that the U.S. government is immediately banning downer cattle -- animals
unable to walk on their own at the slaughter plant -- from being used as
food for humans.
- "The actions we are taking today are steps to enact
additional safeguards to protect the public health," she said.
- As a precaution, Veneman said, processors would be barred
from using the brains, eyes and small intestine of older cattle in human
food. Another new regulation seeks to keep spinal tissue out of meat products
via "meat recovery systems" that scrape tiny bits of meat off
- The USDA will work to create an identification system
for tracing animals and create an international panel of scientists to
review the department's response to the mad cow case.
- "This is a rational response to a situation that
has now reached a new plane," said Bob Price, president of North America
Risk Management Services, a livestock consultancy in Chicago.
- Analyst Bob Anderson at Commodity Services Inc., a Des
Moines, Iowa, brokerage, said "withholding meat from the food chain
from any suspicious cattle is a step forward."
- "The identification to trace the cattle, I'm all
in favor of that. I don't see anything onerous in what USDA has proposed
and I think it would be in the cattlemen's best interest to fully support
it," he said.
- The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, in a policy
shift after the Dec. 23 announcement, backed a "test and hold"
stance for suspicious cattle like "downer" animals.
- Out of 35 million cattle slaughtered each year in the
United States, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 are downer cattle.
- Veneman said the USDA moves will not "cost the USDA
significant amounts of money or for that matter the industry significant
amounts of money."
- The USDA is trying to eliminate possible contamination
of meat supplies by neural tissues thought most suspect in carrying the
misshapen proteins that characterize bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE),
or mad cow disease.
- BSE is a fatal ailment that destroys the brains of infected
cattle. Humans contract a form of the disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Disease by eating tissue from the brains, spinal cords or central nervous
systems of infected animals.
- At least 137 people died from the human variant after
mad cow disease struck herds in Britain and Europe a decade ago.
- USDA officials believe the infected cow came from Canada.
The animal apparently was born in April 1997, a few months before both
nations banned the use of cattle remains as an ingredient in cattle rations.
- McDonald's Corp., Burger King and other hamburger chains
said on Monday that consumer beef demand appeared unaffected so far by
the mad cow scare.
- But on Tuesday February live cattle futures at the Chicago
Mercantile Exchange still closed down the 5.00-cents per pound daily trading
limit at 76.175 cents.
- Cattle prices are about 14 percent below the levels traded
before the Dec. 23 announcement of the mad cow case.
- With the U.S. presidential election less than a year
away, Democrats this week began calling for revival of a Senate proposal
to ban U.S. downer cattle.
- "We shouldn't have to play Sherlock Holmes to find
out how much meat comes from cows who might have been exposed to mad cow,"
Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer said on Tuesday.
- "But we have no choice because the meat industry
continues to fight giving the USDA the ability to track the U.S. meat supply
and other common sense measures," he said.
- South Korea, Japan, Mexico and two dozen other world
customers stopped buying U.S. beef after the mad cow diagnosis was made
public last week. Those supplies -- about 10 percent of U.S. annual production
-- may swamp the U.S. market and push beef prices lower.
- © Reuters 2003. All Rights Reserved.