cow scare has no effect locally
by Mark Vasto
While millions across the country celebrated
Christmas by unwrapping presents, American cattle farmers
were presented with the unsettling news images of Japanese
grocers tossing out packages of American beef by the
caseload over the holidays a reaction to the
United States first confirmed case of mad
Platte County cattle farmer Kevin Rawlings
of Dearborn initially feared the worst.
The first thing I thought was that
it was going to be devastating to the butchers,
Rawlings said. But then, after a while, I reconsidered
that and thought about how reasonable American people
can be, especially after 9-11. I anticipate theyll
be a downturn in the short-term as the market reacts
and itll be bad for anybody who wants to sell
in the near future, but Im sure well come
out of this ok.
In a country that consumes almost 90%
of the beef it produces and is virtually synonymous
with the cheeseburger, Americas near one million
cattle farmers certainly hope he is right. Missouri,
the second largest beef producing state in the nation
(second only to Texas and first in purebred cattle)
has nearly 67,000 farms with beef or dairy cattle.
In Platte County alone, beef cattle number
almost 8,000 a herd that was valued at approximately
$9.6 million before the scare.
The scare being referenced by the worlds
media began on Dec. 9, when a Washington state cow was
observed to be nonambulatory (a downer)
prior to slaughter. Then, as part of the USDAs
targeted surveillance program for BSE, samples were
taken from the animal and sent to USDAs National
Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa,
for testing. There the cow tested positive for BSE,
a diagnosis that was confirmed by the BSE World Reference
Lab in Weybridge, England on Christmas day.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal disease that causes
progressive neurological degeneration in cattle. BSE
is believed to be the primary cause of a variant type
of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. Much
like BSE, vCJD is an incurable and fatal degenerative
brain disorder that is very difficult to diagnose.
So far, Platte County beef consumers seem
to echo Rawlings appraisal of the situation.
We havent noticed any difference
in our sales, said Virginia Glick, manager of
Leos Country Mart in Platte City. The beef
that we get is from Midwest cattle and fortunately,
we havent had any problems.
Area fast food employees also reported
no change in sales, echoing what their national spokespersons
were telling the press on Monday. Aside from the occasional
overheard comment and shrug of the shoulders, holiday
travelers in KCI Airport seemed largely unfazed as CNNs
airport network aired the news of the discovery on Dec.
Such a reaction is exactly what Brent
Bryant, executive vice-president of the Missouri Cattlemens
Association in Colombia, MO, is hoping for.
With the single incident found in
Washington state with a Canadian cow, our concern is
getting sound, science-based information into the hands
of the media and the consumer to reassure them that
the beef supply is safe, Bryant told The Landmark.
The USDA should be commended for
their aggressive pursuit of the situation over the holidays.
Theyve done an excellent job implementing the
The firewall, according to officials,
includes aggressive surveillance of downer
cows, bans on imports of beef with BSE incidents and
a ban on mammal-based feed which is suspected to cause
the disease. Missouris Bureau of Feed and Seed
has been inspecting all feed manufacturers, distributors
and retail feed establishments since 1998 and the states
animal health officials test about 100 brains from at-risk
animals every month.
Bryant said that Missouri cattle farmers
also have something more personal at stake when it comes
to safety: personal pride.
Not only is it the goal of Missouri
farmers to provide safe beef to the USA and the world,
they also feed it to their own families, Bryant
Consumers understand that this is
an isolated incident and theyre continuing to
eat great beef throughout the holidays.