Ranchers bullish about meat sales
Post Independent Staff
New Castle rancher Bill Rogers had a singular reaction on Dec. 23 when headlines across the country ” and the world ” screamed that a heifer in Washington state had tested positive for mad cow disease.
“It was devastating for us,” said this fifth-generation cattle rancher quietly. “We were heading into a total unknown. The facts weren’t getting out.”
Now, more than a month later, Rogers said he and fellow beef industry colleagues are encouraged that the meat-eating public is coming to its own conclusions about the dangers of contracting mad cow.
“We’re extremely optimistic in the ability of the American public to look at the facts,” he said.
Rogers said in his lifetime of ranching, he has never encountered anything like the worldwide media reaction to the Washington mad cow case.
“What was most difficult was that it was totally out of my control,” Rogers said. “It didn’t matter how good I am at my job, and how I raise my cattle.”
Rogers said beef prices dropped 20 percent right after the mad cow announcement was made, but have returned to normal and remained relatively even. U.S. meat consumption has also remained constant, he said, though more than 40 countries have banned American beef.
“We might be getting some of those countries back,” he said, noting that the diseased cow originated in Canada, and contracted mad cow from eating feed in Canada made from an infected cow ” a practice that is outlawed in the United States, as well as in Canada.
“It’s been very rough on the Canadian beef industry,” he said.
Sue Rodgers is also a multi-generation cattle rancher. Her ranch, Crystal River Ranch, is just outside Carbondale.
“The United States is very prepared to deal with this disease,” Rodgers said. “Government officials have really put their arms around this.”
Rodgers said she recently attended a seminar on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) during the National Western Stock Show in Denver.
“You can’t imagine the identification systems they’re currently developing to track cattle,” she said.
Rodgers said global positioning systems and retinal identification were just two methods speakers said could soon be in place to determine where cows originate ” which can help in pinpointing any potential for disease.
Bill Rogers said each state regulates cattle, and any cows that aren’t healthy are inspected by a certified veterinarian. Cows suspected of having infections aren’t allowed to move out of state.
Sue Rodgers said regulations regarding cattle are stringent and getting more so all the time.
On Wednesday afternoon, in fact, Rodgers’ bulls were being tested for bovine trichomoniasis. The disease doesn’t affect humans, but causes sterility and abortion.
“All of our bulls ” knock wood ” have always tested negative for the disease, but we are required to test once a year,” she said. “We elect to test three times a year.”
Garfield County public health nurse Mary Meisner said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also implementing several new public health measures to protect Americans against BSE, and to help prevent any spread of the disease in U.S. cattle.
A report Meisner received Monday from the FDA noted that the U.S. government instigated the ban on cattle feed in 1997. In 1989, import controls were strengthened to protect the public and U.S. cattle. Other FDA measures included beefing up surveillance of U.S. cattle, which helped in the detection of the heifer who tested positive for BSE.
Two more measures were implemented immediately after the Washington state cow discovery. One prevents any bovine tissue known to be at high risk for contracting BSE to enter the human food supply regulated by the FDA. The FDA also put into place a response plan that isolates and contains a BSE-positive animal.
The FDA is also stepping up inspections to feed mills and slaughterhouses.
On Saturday at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado State University animal science student Jenny Winn, also a member of the CSU Cattlewomen, was passing out bags with information, imprinted with the word “BEEF” on behalf of the Colorado Beef Council.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is saying that they’re eating meat,” she said. “Only one man came up and was worried about eating meat, and was wondering about mad cow. The rest of the people are coming up to me, saying they support us. They want to take our bags just to walk around and show their support.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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