September 18, 2003



US Steaks, Ribs Continue To Be Expensive


U.S. store prices for steaks and prime rib will likely remain high because of drought in cattle-raising states and a case of mad cow disease in Canada, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Wednesday.


Prices had reached a record level in August, with choice-grade beef averaging $3.74 a pound in August, up from $3.65 in July, the USDA said.


Last week, choice boxed beef sold at the wholesale level averaged a record $156.11 per hundredweight, it said.


Retail prices were already increasing before the Canadian mad cow disease scare was reported May. The USDA froze Canadian beef imports for several months.


The USDA said consumers may see beef prices ease a bit as the United States resumes importing "low-risk" Canadian beef products, but noted that many U.S. cattle ranchers have been forced to liquidate their herds due to withered pasture land.


With ranchers sending many of their heifers to slaughter, U.S. beef production will not increase before 2006, the USDA said. That means supplies will continue falling in 2004 and 2005.


The mad cow crisis in Canada has also seen a rise in U.S. imports of Canadian hogs


U.S. hog imports between June and August increased 48 percent over the same period last year.


Despite the surge in imports, pork prices were expected to increase through spring 2004 due to high beef prices. Last month, the composite retail pork price was $2.71, an increase of almost 2 percent from July.