Iowa Public Television


Beef Industry Looks to Future

posted on January 2, 2004

At least 36 countries now have banned imports of U.S. beef and, according to some analysts, that could cost tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S. livestock industry. That sort of talk has provided political leverage to pet causes. Democratic presidential candidates blasted the Bush administration for what they called a lax meat inspection policy. And supporters of country-of-origin labeling said the discovery of Mad Cow in the U.S. is a prime reason Congress should pass COOL.

Passage of COOL, they argue, is necessary before national livestock identification program can be launched. Indeed, calls for a national I.D. program have ramped up in the past week, even though most U.S. consumers apparently still believe beef is what's for dinner.

Beef Industry Looks to Future Despite some flagging demand for product in the Northwest, it appears U.S. consumers are not concerned about the single case of BSE affecting the nation's food supply. The rapid reaction by USDA appears to have calmed most fears on the matter.

John Lawrence, director of the Iowa Beef Center, points to the reaction of the May 21 case of Mad Cow discovered in Canada as the test case.

Dr. John Lawrence, Director, Iowa Beef Center: "And so, how is today different than 10 days ago, before we announced the case of finding this one cow in Washington, we were already in a North American market, we knew that within North America there was at least evidence one cow and now two that have it, and so we haven't seen a lot of reaction from consumers. And, quite frankly, I don't think we will."

So what about the future? For now, the domestic cash and futures markets appear to be stabilizing. This still leaves cattle producers, buyers, and processors wondering how long export markets will be closed and where prices will go.

Producers supplying the Iowa Quality Beef Supply Cooperative, a newly opened operation near Tama, Iowa, are like many, waiting for more information. The plant is supplied by more than 900 producers that all own stock in the company. Gene Rouse is the CEO.

Gene Rouse, CEO, Iowa Beef Supply Cooperative: "I think probably the biggest single thing was that after the incident we really didn't, nobody seemed to know how to price cattle, or price beef and what the real reaction would be."

The larger impact for most processors will be what to do with the offal or specialty meats. If the export markets stay closed for an extended period, there will be the question of where to store what cannot be sold.

As for the fate of commodity beef originally slated for the export market, Lawrence believes that, with tight domestic supplies, U.S. citizens will consume most of the excess.

As the possibilities of what to do about extra domestic supply are sorted out, the question of when export markets will open looms large. Currently, Japan, the major importer of U.S. beef, wants the USDA to get all of its facts straight before talks on reopening its market can begin. Some experts are speculating it will come down to verification BSE is not present on a plant-by-plant basis.

Tags: agriculture animals beef diseases food safety future industry livestock Mad Cow meat news