- HONOLULU (Reuters) - Two-thirds
of a sampling of American farmers polled by Reuters said they oppose mandatory
testing of all U.S. cattle for mad cow disease, an approach used by Japan
as a sure-fire way to ensure that deadly beef products do not enter the
human food chain.
- A similar margin of 70 percent of farmers questioned
for the Reuters survey said they want the Food and Drug Administration
to ban cattle remains from being fed to all livestock as a safety precaution
against mad cow disease.
- And more than half of those polled said the government
should require identification tags for all U.S. cattle to allow faster
tracking of animals if mad cow disease or another ailment is discovered.
- The straw poll of 660 U.S. farmers was conducted at the
American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting this week in Honolulu.
The federation is the nation's largest farm group, representing producers
of cattle and hogs as well as growers of cotton, corn, wheat, and soybeans.
- The survey was conducted at random and does not attempt
to weigh responses by state, farm size or other criteria.
- The results point to a $23 billion industry still in
shock after the U.S. Agriculture Department announced on Dec. 23 the first
U.S. case of mad cow disease had been discovered in a Washington state
- Japan and more than 40 other nations immediately halted
imports of U.S. beef after the news, virtually freezing overnight the $3
billion export sector which represents 10 percent of U.S. beef business.
- "People in the cattle industry know that we're going
to have to start tracking our animals," said Paul Fugate, a Tennessee
cattle and tobacco farmer, at the meeting.
- MAJORITY OPPOSE MANDATORY TESTS
- But the Reuters survey found that 66 percent of farmers
questioned said they opposed mandatory testing of all cattle at slaughter
and rendering plants, a move some consumer groups say is the best way to
keep mad cow disease out of U.S. food.
- Mandatory testing is the approach that Japan wants Washington
to adopt. And Japan is the biggest single buyer of U.S. beef, taking about
a third of U.S. exports.
- "I don't believe it would accomplish anything because
we've got the safest food supply," Jason Luckey, a Tennessee cattle
farmer, told Reuters. "You don't have that much more to gain except
to create more panic."
- The USDA and the American meat industry also insist that
science does not support universal testing of all cattle, a procedure they
say would cost at least $30 per animal.
- Last year, the USDA tested about 20,000 animals for mad
cow disease and plans to double the number of tests this year. The United
States slaughtered nearly 36 million cattle last year, about four times
more than Japan, which tests all its cattle.
- A large majority of farmers polled by Reuters want the
FDA to tighten its rules by banning the use of cattle remains in all livestock
- Kevin Gaukel, a Wyoming cattle farmer, said broadening
the 1997 ban to chicken and pig feed would be "a good preventive measure"
to remove another possible avenue for contamination.
- But Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman told
Reuters the current FDA feed rules are adequate. Banning so-called ruminant
remains from feed for pigs and chickens would be needed only if public
confidence in the food supply wavers, he said.
- "Right now I think it might be too soon," he
- Of farmers surveyed, 59 percent said they would support
a mandatory ID system for all livestock. USDA is working with industry
groups and state agriculture regulators on a voluntary ID program that
is expected to cost more than $70 million.
- The "trace-back" system, slated to begin for
cattle, hogs and sheep in February 2005, would allow livestock suspected
of diseases including mad cow to be identified within 48 hours by determining
the farms, ranches or feedlots involved.
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