From ranch to feedlot and from packing house to grocery store, no link in the food chain has gone unfazed by the first reported case of Mad Cow disease in U.S. history. And though there's been no apparent rush by consumers to vegetarian diets, the domestic beef cattle industry remains in a state of flux.
Indeed, even as the USDA probe of the case continues, the livestock industry has begun to ponder everything from routine testing of cattle feed sources to the impact of new slaughter rules put in place by the feds.
But likely the biggest unanswered question for producers at week's end is, "When will beef prices begin to stabilize?"
Live cattle prices had started to drop before the mad cow announcement, but fallout from the notice has seen futures prices continue to decline. By Wednesday, prices fell the daily limit for the fifth straight session. That's a price decline of 16% since in a little over a week's time. December 3rd saw a market high on the December live cattle contract of $99.925. By the end of trading New Year's Eve, the price had dropped to $77.20.
Nearby cattle feeders also have spent a week of opening limit down. After reaching a high of $102.45 on December 3rd ... the January contract price on Wednesday fell to $78.92.
To prevent panic trading and to keep prices from falling too rapidly, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange announced for the second time in the past week, adjustments in its daily price limits for December live cattle futures contracts.
Dr. John Lawrence, Iowa Beef Center: "In the futures market, futures by definition trade on any kind of information so any kind of new information...how trade talks are going with Japan, how the investigation is going. Any type of good or bad news is going to cause the futures to react."