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Archive for Thursday, January 1, 2004

Sebelius enlists governors in pro-beef campaign

Leaders trying to head off fallout from mad cow

January 1, 2004

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is soliciting help from other states' chief executives for a public campaign to reassure consumers that beef is safe to eat, notwithstanding the first-ever American case of mad cow disease.

Sebelius said Wednesday that governors, or their representatives, in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas had agreed to participate.

In addition, she used her weekly column, sent to 300 newspapers, to express confidence in the safety of beef.

She was responding to last week's discovery that a cow in Washington state had tested positive for mad cow disease, the first in the country to do so. The disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, eats holes in the brains of cattle; animals contract it by eating feed that contains protein and bone meal from cattle.

"As leaders, we need to do what we can to educate consumers about this disease," Sebelius said in a statement.

Kansas is the nation's second-largest cattle producer, after Texas, with 6.35 million cattle on ranches and feedlots as of Jan. 1., the latest figures available. Meatpacking and meat processing employs 13,700 people across the state, and nearly a quarter of the cattle American consumers eat are fed in Kansas.

Sebelius said she and her family continued to eat beef several times a week. She also said she was confident that actions taken by federal officials had made the food supply safer.

On Tuesday, the USDA banned meat from sick "downer" cattle and promised to establish a nationwide animal tracking system. The agency also ordered changes in slaughterhouse techniques aimed at keeping meat from being contaminated with brain or spinal cord tissue that can spread mad cow disease.

State officials repeatedly have said Kansas was not likely to see a BSE outbreak because of how the disease is spread.

The state's plan for dealing with livestock disease outbreaks concentrates more on contagious conditions, such as foot-and-mouth disease.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment scheduled a series of daylong workshops on disposing of diseased animal carcasses. The workshops are Jan. 13 in Garden City, Jan. 14 in WaKeeney, Jan. 15 in Concordia, Jan. 21 in Hutchinson and Jan. 22 in Emporia.

"It was just a coincidence," KDHE spokeswoman Sharon Watson said of the workshops' scheduling. "They aren't connected to mad cow."

Federal officials say they've tried to prevent a mad cow panic. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman had said she planned to serve beef at her Christmas dinner. President Bush and other national leaders also have made a point of eating beef in public.

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