Archive for Tuesday, April 13, 2004

State beef plant to fight U.S. ruling

Creekstone seeks options to test every animal for mad cow

April 13, 2004


— Citing growing support from consumers for mad cow testing, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef officials said Monday they were pursuing political and legal options in the company's fight to test every animal it slaughters for the disease.

"We do not plan to lay off any more people -- and we intend to keep fighting to survive," said Bill Fielding, chief operating officer.

Seasonally strong market demand for beef will help the company weather losses from the closure of Asian export markets, he said. The company had earlier laid off nearly 50 workers.

Japan has banned American beef since the first U.S. case of mad cow, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in December.

The Agriculture Department denied last week a request from Creekstone to allow 100 percent BSE testing at its Arkansas City plant -- a move that would have allowed the company to resume export sales to Japan.

The Agriculture Department and the meat processing industry have contended the U.S. meat supply is safe, and 100 percent testing is a cost not justified by science.

Since the USDA decision, Fielding said his company had been inundated with e-mails from U.S. consumers who say they would like a choice.

Among them is Steven Harris, an engineer in Narbeth, Pa., who said he stopped buying American beef mostly to protest government food safety regulations.

The only beef he has bought since December has been Australian beef he found at an alternative foods store.

"The USDA is supposed to protect the public from things," Harris said. "It is not supposed to come up with the least-cost way for the manufacturers."

Under an expanded program, the Agriculture Department plans to test for a year more than 220,000 older, high-risk cattle at a cost of $70 million.

Creekstone, which is based in Campbellsburg, Ky., says its program to test 300,000 head of cattle at its facility, at a cost of $6 million or about $20 per animal, would cost taxpayers nothing because its customers have agreed to cover the cost.

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