Beef-Loving Americans
Shrug At Second Mad Cow

By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Meat-loving Americans will stick with beef despite a second U.S. case of mad cow disease, analysts and trade groups said on Sunday, even if cattle markets have the jitters.
Consumer groups said the new case showed the need to close holes in the U.S. defenses against the brain-destroying disease. The Center of Science in the Public Interest, for example, or CSPI, said a system was needed to track the origins of suspect cattle within 48 hours.
The new case, described only as a beef cow more than 8 years old that was a "downer," or too ill to walk, could be the first U.S.-born case. The other case, reported in December 2003, was an older dairy cow in Washington state that had been born in Canada.
Always fatal, mad cow disease is spread through feed containing material from infected cattle. People can contract a human version of the disease by eating infected meat. There have been no such cases blamed on U.S. beef.
"We saw consumption remained steady" after the first U.S. case, said Janet Riley of a American Meat Institute. "I expect to see the same thing (this time)."
Per capita U.S. beef consumption, estimated at 67.2 pounds (30.6 kgs) this year, or 1.3 pounds (0.6 kg) a week, is up 1.7 percent since the first U.S. case.
"We expect burgers to be a big item for the Fourth of July," said Terry Stokes, chief executive of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, or NCBA. The Independence Day holiday traditionally is a high point for summer cookouts.
Cattle prices fell by roughly 2.7 percent in futures trading since the Agriculture Department said on June 10 that it was re-testing the beef cow, which had been declared free of mad cow in November. Prices were expected to fall sharply when trading opened on Monday, said traders.
"They (cattle feeders) feel like they paid for the whole thing," said NCBA chief lobbyist Jay Truitt, who spent the weekend in west Texas.
One livestock analyst said confirmation of the mad cow case would add to pressure for lower cattle prices in coming months. Cattle numbers are rising and there were prospects of higher feed prices.
Agriculture Department officials acknowledged several missteps in handling the new case when they announced the final test results on Friday. They were still trying to identify the cow's home herd.
USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said he did not anticipate any announcements on Monday.
"This cow may show they can't track it (origin) at all," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI's food safety expert. CSPI wants speedy implementation of a mandatory cattle identification system. USDA now plans mandatory ID in 2009.
Other consumer groups fault the Food and Drug Administration for not following through on pledges to expand the scope of its so-called feed ban imposed in 1997. It bars the use of cattle parts in making cattle feed. Activists say the ban should include poultry litter, restaurant scraps and cattle blood as well.
They also want more spot tests of cattle for mad cow and say USDA should make permanent its emergency ban against slaughter of downer cattle for food.
Besides the feed ban and the downer rule, the other major U.S. safeguard is a rule requiring meatpackers to remove from carcasses the brains, spinal cords and other tissue most likely to carry the malformed proteins that cause mad cow.
© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.



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