Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had a suggestion Monday for dinner: "Go buy a burger. Eat a steak."
Sebelius' lighthearted message was a serious suggestion that consumers continue to eat beef despite the discovery last month of a cow infected with mad cow disease in Washington state. The governor made the remark as she signed a proclamation marking "American Beef Week."
Sebelius said governors of Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas all signed similar proclamations to reassure consumers the nation's beef supply remains safe. Those states are among 10 that are responsible for about 75 percent of the beef market in the United States, Sebelius said.
"We all recognize that it's not only significant for our economies, but it's a key part of the diet of Americans," she said. "Hopefully, Kansas and American consumers will continue to buy and eat beef."
Only one cow has been found to have the disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. The disease eats holes in the brains of cattle; animals contract it by eating feed that contains protein and bone meal from cows.
Sebelius said the impact of the BSE incident on the nation's economy was unclear, though the circumstances were different from those in 2003 when a cow with BSE was discovered in Alberta, Canada. She said 90 percent of the U.S. beef market is domestic and that while foreign markets were important, the ban issued by several nations should not cripple the market.
"So while we'd like those export markets to open as quickly as possible, the more significant issue is to make sure Americans stay confident in the food supply," she said.
Kansas is the nation's second-largest cattle producer, after Texas, with 6.35 million cattle on ranches and feedlots as of Jan. 1, 2003, the latest figures available. Meatpacking and meat processing employ 13,700 people across the state, and nearly a quarter of the cattle American consumers eat are fed in Kansas.
State officials have repeatedly said Kansas is not likely to see a BSE outbreak because of how the disease is spread.
Today, Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden will lead an informational meeting in Topeka to discuss the latest news about BSE with producers, industry representatives and consumers.
Governors will receive weekly updates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sebelius said. In addition, foreign officials are interested in visiting to see what safeguards are in place from the feedlot to the packing houses.