News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel What now mad cow?

Those who enjoy irony never need to look beyond our federal government to find it.�

Just as USDA was accepting public comments on a proposal to weaken mad cow regulations to allow live beef imports from Canada, the U.S. discovered its first-ever case of mad cow disease, in an old milk cow imported from guess where ? Canada.

Mad cow (BSE) disease is no laughing matter, considering that Canadian businesses have lost an estimated $2.5 billion since Canada announced its second case of mad cow on May 20, 2003. Canada's first case in 1993 was an animal imported from Great Britain.

However, I do not expect our industry to be hit as hard as that of Canada, which exports up to 60 percent of its cattle and beef, while exports account for only about 10 percent of our beef sales.�

Just three countries buy about 90 percent of our beef exports. If we can partly re-open one or two of those within a reasonable time, the impact of this scare will be greatly reduced.� We are already working on it, and USDA has banned use of downer cattle for human food and halted use of tested animals until the test results are in to assure that a similar incident will not happen again.

While Canadian beef has taken a hit, their prices are not what I would call a disaster.� In southern Alberta, 700 pound steers were still worth more than $80 (U.S.) per hundred weight the third week in December.

U.S. beef prices dropped 20 percent during the first few days after the BSE case was announced, but we received 35 percent gain during the previous nine months.

It also is worth noting that the Canadian cow and the U.S. cow diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow) were both from the province of Alberta, both were more than six years old and could have received commercial feed produced before the August 1997 ban on using bone meal in cattle feeds.

We have been awfully proud of saying we are a "BSE-free country".�We can't say that anymore.�However, we need no longer fear and speculate about what the first BSE case is going to do to our markets.�We are about to find out.�

When you think about it, we really are facing the same problem Canada faced in 1993:�we found BSE in an imported cow.� That's not good, but it is also not the end of the world.

The bottom line is:�BSE found in a cow in the United States is bad news, but I doubt that it will be as bad as some have predicted.

I don't expect to go out of the ranching business.�I also don't expect that my friends and neighbors will.�

I do expect that some of those who bought during the recent cattle price spike will take some losses.�I do expect that times may be tough for a while.� That's OK.�Times have been tough before, and we are still here.

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