Mad Cow Hunt Gains Steam

Dairy cows mill about their pen Friday, Jan. 9, 2004 at the Sunny Dene Ranch in Mabton, Wash. Animals from a second quarantined herd with ties to the Washington state cow with mad cow disease will be killed
The Agriculture Department has tracked down more of the cattle it wants to test for mad cow disease, but also expanded its hunt.

Since it announced on Dec. 23 that a single cow had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, also known as mad cow disease, the USDA has been searching for 81 cows from the infected animal's herd.

Meanwhile, USDA has been testing cows from the farm where the infected cow was found and other farms where other members of the herd are located.

So far, 23 of the 81 cows have been found at five facilities. Scientists have killed and tested 131 cows at the farm in Mabton, Wash., where the infected cow was found, the USDA said Tuesday.

At another site in Mattawa, Wash., where three of the herd members were located, 39 animals have been tested.

So far, no additional animals have tested positive for BSE, although some results are pending.

On Friday, USDA said it was now also hunting another group of 17 cows that may have been raised with the other 81. Three of the 17 have been found. It's unclear if the others made it from Canada into the United States.

Meanwhile, the effects of the single cow's positive test continue to be felt nationwide.

Overall meat industry job losses connected to mad cow disease have been relatively few, mainly because domestic demand for steak and hamburger has remained strong, said Ted Schroeder, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University. About 10 percent of U.S. beef is exported.

But meatpacking plants from Minnesota to Texas and from Iowa to Idaho have since cut jobs because some of the "secondary" meats they produce — such as beef tongue and intestines — primarily go to international markets.

For example, Excel Corp. of Wichita, Kan., laid off 700 workers at five plants in Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska because of the loss of export markets for secondary meats, spokesman Mark Klein said.

Swift & Co. cut 140 jobs in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas and Idaho for much the same reason, spokesman Jim Herlihy said.

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc., said his company laid off about 40 workers at its smaller slaughterhouses in Iowa, Nebraska and Idaho.

A host of countries have banned U.S. beef since the discovery of the infected animal.

In top U.S. beef importer Japan, the government has ordered meat wholesalers not to sell hundreds of tons of American T-bone steaks and other U.S. beef products considered at risk of carrying mad cow disease, health officials said Wednesday.

The order, issued on Tuesday, affects 862 U.S. tons of steaks, soup stocks and other products made of bone parts, calf brains and other parts that are at risk in cows infected with BSE.

The move covers products imported from the United States between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 24, when Tokyo imposed a ban on all American beef imports in response to the discovery of the first confirmed U.S. case of mad cow disease in Washington state.

If export markets don't open within a year, job losses could grow and spill over into feedlots, equipment and supply companies for meatpacking plants and retail businesses in Midwest towns, Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss said.

Nebraska could lose 21,000 jobs, Kansas 17,000, Iowa 6,800 and Minnesota and South Dakota each about 2,300, Goss estimated in a Midwest business conditions survey issued earlier this month.

In related news, a $4 million television ad campaign promoting beef will start on Jan. 26 after a two-week delay following the discovery of a U.S. cow infected with mad cow disease.

The ads were originally scheduled to start Jan. 12, but the Denver-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association withheld them because news coverage of mad cow.

"From a marketing perspective, consumers watching (mad cow) news clips followed by 'Beef, it's what's for dinner' was not what we wanted," said Mark Thomas, vice president of global marketing for the cattlemen's association.

Elsewhere, opponents of legislation that would delay for two years country-of-origin labels on foods have blocked the Senate from finishing a long-overdue $373 billion spending bill.

The bill would delay the labeling requirement for two years, which is supported by the Bush administration and many Texas cattle interests but opposed by many beef producers in the North and Midwest.