January 12, 2004



Low Cattle Prices in US to Persist Due to Mad Cow Disease


Low cattle prices in the United States will persist as a result of the U.S. mad cow incident, despite Americans' unwavering appetite for beef.


The U.S. response to mad cow disease was expected to dominate the annual meeting of the 5.5-million-member American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) here. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman will speak to the convention by satellite on Monday.


In a speech opening the convention, AFBF President Bob Stallman said farmers "are feeling some economic effects ... and will for some time to come" due to mad cow. Cattle prices are about 15 percent lower since the infected cow was found.


"The good news is that the latest polls are showing American consumers are continuing to purchase, consume and enjoy American beef," Stallman said.


Dozens of nations cut off U.S. beef imports following the Dec. 23 discovery of mad cow disease in a Holstein dairy cow in Washington state. Since then, the Bush administration unveiled several new safeguards, including a ban on using sick or crippled "downer" cattle for human food.


The administration also said it would accelerate development of a uniform animal identification system, which would simplify the response to outbreak of dangerous diseases, like mad cow.


To be successful, animal identification must be mandatory, Brad Wildeman, chairman of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, told the convention.


Canada reached a compliance rate well above 99 percent after making registration mandatory in July 2002, he said. When it was voluntary, only 75 percent of cattle were registered.


U.S. farmers traditionally are wary of government intrusion on the farm. But livestock producers were expected to be more receptive to animal ID in the wake of the mad cow case.


When AFBF delegates begin policy debate on Tuesday, they will be asked to give high priority to development of a U.S. animal ID system. Numbering systems now vary farm to farm.


Wildeman said the Canadian system, which is run by the cattle industry, was invaluable in tracking down herdmates of infected cows. Canada reported its first native case of mad cow on May 20 and was the birthplace of the U.S. case.


"It's a good thing that dairy cow (in Washington state) was born in Canada. We'd never have found her," an Oregon farmer told Wildeman.


A consortium of federal, state and industry officials were drafting a U.S. animal ID plan that would take its first step this summer: the issuance of identification numbers for farms, ranches and feedlots. Assignment of animal ID numbers would begin in early 2005.


With cattle ID, Wildeman said, "we saved the slaughter, we think, of 10,000 cattle" by accurately tracing animals in the mad cow investigations.


By comparison, U.S. officials ordered the slaughter of a herd of 450 bull calves because they could not be sure which one was the offspring of the infected cow in Washington state.

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