Ample supplies against a relatively constant demand have been the biggest factors in a listless market. To be sure, there are concerns about food safety and the potential of some sort of terrorist-induced disruption to the nation's food system.
A greater concentration of livestock production employing modern husbandry could make more animals susceptible to disease. A lack of seed diversity that creates the grain and oilseed monoculture of modern U.S. agriculture is also more vulnerable. However, it's more likely a Star Wars defense system will be deployed in cornfields to counter agri-terrosim before American farmers change practices they've found to be profitable.
In a wealthy and open nation, everything is vulnerable. But the events of last month are having an effect on American consumption habits and that impact is rippling right back to the farm.
The terrorist attacks on September 11 have touched more than just the air travel industry. According to recently released statistics by the Denver-based brokerage firm Hedger's Edge, demand for beef from restaurants and hotels is off as much as 50%. These two high-end buyers account for 15% of the sales of the highest-grade beef. The loss has sent prices downward. Currently, analysts are unsure if the beef industry will fully recover.
The meat industry also is taking it on the chin in export markets. In Japan last month, a case of mad cow was discovered in a domestic dairy herd. The discovery caused Japanese meat sales to fall by 60%. The hit was felt across the Pacific by U.S. beef producers who watched sales drop by 50%. Last year, sales to Japan totaled about 1.8-billion dollars or about one-third of all U.S. beef exports.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, things are looking up for U.S. biotech seed companies and the European farmers who want to plant them. A report released by the European Union this week documents 81 biotech research projects over the past 15 years and concluded there were no risks to human health or the environment.
The document is expected to open the door for the export of GMO seeds to Europe and the approval of GMO varieties whose licenses have been in limbo for two years.