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A Small Packing Plant Challenges USDA

posted on April 16, 2004

One area of economic growth the Bush administration is trying to generate is foreign trade, specifically re-opening markets to U.S. beef. Many overseas customers said "No Thanks" to U.S. beef imports after the discovery in December of a lone case of Mad Cow disease in a Washington state Holstein.

The biggest of those customers is Japan, which is asking the U.S. to test each of the 35 million cows it annually slaughters. That request, which the U.S. labels unnecessary, will be among the things discussed at talks in Tokyo next week aimed at lifting the import ban.

But, as the administration found this week, Asia is not the only place where the debate over Mad Cow testing is simmering.

A Small Packing Plant Challenges USDA

A Kansas beef packing plant, whose main customer is Japan, plans to challenge the USDA's decision to not allow the company to voluntarily test all its cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy ... or BSE.

As Market to Market reported last week, the USDA rejected the "test all animals" request by Kentucky-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, stating it was the consensus of international experts that 100% testing is unnecessary.

Bill Fielding, CEO, Creekstone Farms: "It's not a question of whether testing is necessary or not. It's that our customers asked us to do it. And if we do it, we can start shipping product to Japan."

Creekstone officials say their Japanese customers are requesting 100% testing of all beef bound for their market as a precursor to the resumption of trade. The strict requirement comes after the discovery of one BSE (or mad cow) case in the U.S. last year.

Bill Fiedling, CEO, Creekstone: "We have lost at least $100 a head. That's $100,000 a day."

Creekstone officials plan to challenge the USDA's authority to control the sales of BSE diagnostic tests in the United States.

The company would test more than 300,000 head of cattle over the course of the year and its overseas customers are willing to pay the nearly $6 (M) million cost.

Meanwhile, Creekstone's proposal drew fire from within the American beef industry ... which is worried about the cost of excessive testing.

The USDA's proposal calls for testing about 220,000 head at a cost of at least $72 (M) dollars to taxpayers.

Tags: agriculture animals beef government livestock Mad Cow meat news USDA