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From: TSS (
Subject: Beef industry advised to hold its horses "a reasonable chance that you will find some other BSE cases," said Comer,
Date: October 31, 2004 at 6:52 am PST


Beef industry advised to hold its horses

Foreign markets are reopening, but cattle farmers will have to wait to feel the impact.

October 31, 2004

Cattle producers in Iowa and the rest of the United States need to be patient. That was the advice last week from experts following the announcement that two key foreign markets say they plan to reopen their borders to U.S. beef.

Japan and Taiwan, traditionally two of the largest export markets for U.S. beef, banned beef from this country after a case of mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was discovered last December.

But it will take time to return to export levels seen before the mad cow case occurred, experts said, and the risk of additional cases of the disease remains.

For years, the United States annually has exported about 10 percent of its beef. This year, however, between January and August, just 1.5 percent of U.S. beef was shipped overseas, said Brett Stuart, a trade analyst with the U.S. Meat Export Federation in Denver, Colo.

"That hurts," Stuart said.

So far, U.S. cattle prices have not suffered from the loss in exports. Although prices retreated from last fall's record highs after the U.S. mad cow case was confirmed, 2004 is turning out to be "one of the best years on record" for cattle producers, said Stuart.

While uncertainties about BSE pose risks for the U.S. beef industry, he and other market analysts said, cattle producers face another unknown - how long cattle prices will remain high.

"There is a lot of risk out in the feedlot world today, because people have filled them with record-high-priced feeder cattle," Stuart said. "There is just a lot of risk out there." Last week , 10 months after discovery of the first mad cow case in the United States, Japan and Taiwan said they would resume importation of U.S. beef after regulatory issues are worked out and inspections of U.S. meatpacking facilities are completed.

"There are still a lot of details that must be worked out, but we are very pleased to have this issue resolved," said J.B. Penn, a top U.S. Department of Agriculture official. Shipments should resume within "a matter of weeks," he said.

U.S. cattle producers and beef industry leaders welcomed the announcement. Before this year, Japan had imported well over $1 billion worth of U.S. beef annually, more than one-third of total exports.

"I think to say it's a matter of weeks is very ambitious," said Phil Seng, president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Scientists and cattle industry leaders believe the United States and other countries could see additional cases of mad cow disease.

"The problem in a lot of countries is that there is not very good surveillance," said Philip Comer , an engineer in London who has worked as a consultant on BSE-related issues for the British government.

Even in the United States, which has implemented additional safeguards to prevent the disease, there is "a reasonable chance that you will find some other BSE cases," said Comer, a speaker at an international conference on BSE held earlier this month in Ames.

Mad cow disease cases are on the wane in Britain, where an outbreak of the disease several years ago resulted in 180,000 confirmed cases, Comer said.

So far, nearly 150 people have died there from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is thought to come from exposure to BSE in beef products.

Changes in how cattle are fed and slaughtered have halted the epidemic in that country, but scientists and industry representatives who spoke at the Ames conference said they still do not know enough about the disease.
"It's clear that it is a risk," said Dagmar Heim , a Swiss veterinarian who works with the European Union's Food Safety Agency, which oversees BSE-related issues. "The question is, how big is the risk?"

"We know much more than we did years ago," she told an audience in Ames, "but there is uncertainty still."

Export deal details
The agreement on beef trade between the United States and Japan that was announced Oct. 23, reopening Japan's door to beef from the U.S., calls for:
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture will implement a special marketing program to certify that all beef products shipped to Japan come from cattle younger than 21 months.
• Meatpackers will remove from all cattle so-called specified risk materials, including the spinal cord and brain tissue, that are thought to harbor BSE, or mad cow disease.
• International experts will evaluate the certification program ahead of a joint Japanese-U.S. review of the program in July 2005.

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