Cattlemen say ‘no’ to BSE testing

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DENVER – Costs of $30 per head or more would fall on U.S. cattle producers if 100 percent testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) became the standard, the chief economist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently said.

And, he said, if an exception was provided to allow one company to export 100 percent BSE-tested product to Japan, it would become the standard for all export markets, and most likely the domestic market, as well.

Is it safer? “Providing food safety standards for international trade isn’t about free enterprise,” said the economist, Gregg Doug.

“It’s about creating a science-based framework, government-to-government, under which trade can be conducted.

“All beef, regardless of its intended market, must be safe. But BSE testing addresses animal health surveillance and does nothing to improve safety,” Doud said.

Majority of cost. “Furthermore, it’s basic economics that says with any new cost in an agricultural commodity, it’s the producer of that commodity that will pay the majority of the cost.

“Producers can see that very plainly when the price of corn goes up.

“That cost is reflected in the decreased price of feeder cattle – not in the increased price of fed cattle.”

False perceptions. All U.S. beef sold, either domestically or abroad, is BSE free, so testing every animal for the disease would be meaningless, he said.

A false perception of increased food safety might be created through 100 percent testing, though, so all processors could be forced into the practice.

Doud said it’s for those reasons that the cattlemen’s association opposes any loopholes in international trade for Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, even though association members are sympathetic to Creekstone’s plight.

Government’s role. “Cattlemen and companies in the beef industry are suffering from the closing of the Japanese market to U.S. beef,” Doud said.

“But it has always been and should be the government’s role to ensure animal health, food safety and international trade.

“Our members insist that the government be firm in its role to oversee these issues and establish trade standards across borders that are based on science and recognize the safety of the U.S. beef supply.

“We think the answer to the dilemma is for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with their counterparts in the Japanese government to demonstrate why they can be confident in the systems we have in place to produce a safe product.”

Expenses. Doud said tests would cost $30 per animal or more when all costs, such as the kits, labor, shipping, holding, laboratory facilities and others, are included.

The expense would increase processing costs and be factored into what a plant offered producers for cattle.

In addition, letting individual companies test for BSE would increase the chance that false positive results could become public, causing tremendous volatility in cattle markets and hurting cattlemen financially, according to Doud.

High priorities. The cattlemen’s association’s officers and members recognize the need for international trade, and have made opening the borders their highest priority, according to Jan Lyons, a beef producer from Manhattan, Kan., and association president.

However, “we are all about putting more money in the pockets of our producers and protecting their livelihoods,” she said.

“We don’t believe it’s in the long-term best interests of our producers to add to their costs when those costs won’t be reflected in either safer beef or improved markets for their cattle.”

Doud said if we start allowing individual U.S. companies to use marketing strategies to determine trade policies we’re entering onto a “slippery slope,” creating opportunities for non-science-based regulations.

“The result would be different rules for every country, which would be chaos and limit U.S. beef exports,” Doud said.

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