The U.S. economy grew more slowly in the first three months of 2012 than previously expected. But U.S. consumers spent at their fastest pace in more than a year.
The Commerce Department estimated Friday that the U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product, grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the 1st quarter. That's down from a 3 percent rate in the final three months of 2011.
But, consumer spending accelerated to an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the 1st quarter of the year, driven by surging auto sales, which accounted for nearly 30 percent of total economic expansion.
Spending on home construction and renovations rose by the most in nearly two years. But the Conference Board, a private research group, announced this week its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 69.2 in March.... well below a reading of 90 or more indicating a healthy economy.
Consumer confidence in U.S. beef COULD have been dealt a serious blow this week, when the Agriculture Department announced the carcass of a dairy cow from California tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, a malady more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease.
Food safety watchdogs -- and the cattle markets -- initially were spooked by the announcement. But, after officials repeatedly stressed the animal was NOT bound for the human food chain, the development appeared to have little long-term impact on cattle prices.
America's 4th confirmed case of Mad Cow Disease was met, initially, with concern -- despite assurances from USDA officials that the animal NEVER posed a threat to human health.
Cattle prices moved limit-down in the wake of Tuesday's announcement on concern that U.S. beef exports, which were predicted to soar to a record high in 2012, would take a significant hit.
On Wednesday, however, it became apparent that the first confirmed case of Mad Cow Disease in the U.S. since 2006 would have little impact on the export market.
Quick moves by government and industry officials appeared to alleviate most concerns over the presence of the disease in a single dairy cow from California's Central Valley.
According to USDA, the deceased animal was one of the 40,000 cattle tested annually for Mad Cow Disease and it never posed a threat to human health.
Dr. John Clifford, Chief Veterninary Officer, USDA : "This particular animal did not enter the food supply at any time, so there is no concern about that. In addition, the safety of our food is addressed through our interlocking safeguards and through the removal of any type of material that could contain the BSE agent in the United States.”
Michael Marsh, CEO, Western United Dairymen: "I think that as I got more information about the situation I came more comforted in the fact that the surveillance systems we've got in place work and that gives me a great deal of comfort that and I can't wait to get home this evening for a nice juicy steak.”
One day after the announcement, U.S. trading partners were already weighing in with mostly good news for the U.S. beef industry. Spokespeople for the Mexican and Canadian governments said trade would continue.
Indonesia, however, suspended imports of U.S beef Thursday.
And two leading South Korean supermarket chains suspended sales of U.S. beef initially, but one of the grocers resumed sales within a few hours.
Japan, which imported more than 450 million pounds of U.S. beef last year, already requires that shipments be from animals 20 months of age and younger. Even before USDA’s announcement Friday that the animal was, in fact, more than 10 years old, Japanese officials said there was no need change their regulations.
And that reflects a major shift in policy. When Mad Cow Disease was first confirmed in America late in 2003, Japan promptly closed its ports to U.S. beef.
Prior to the discovery, Japan HAD been America’s most lucrative beef export market and imported a record 918 million tons in 2003. By the following year, however, shipments plummeted 99 percent. While the island nation eventually lifted the ban, as recently as last year, U.S. beef exports to Japan were only half of 2003’s record high.
All told, American beef exports fell more than 80 percent in the wake of that original case. But now more than eight years later, it appears the discovery of a single infected animal in California may not prevent shipments from surging to a record high for the second consecutive year.