Archive for Saturday, March 6, 2004

Rival says company ‘abandoned’ U.S. trade strategy on mad cow

March 6, 2004


— A Kansas meatpacker "abandoned" U.S. trade policy when it decided to test every animal processed at one of its plants for mad cow disease, a rival said Friday.

Steve Hunt, chief executive of U.S. Premium Beef, told The Associated Press the industry was concerned when Creekstone Farms announced plans to test every animal slaughtered at its Arkansas City plant for mad cow disease.

"We think it is a trade issue. ... It is always difficult when one of your parties abandons the strategy," Hunt said.

Creekstone Farms is seeking approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to perform the voluntary testing. The Kentucky-based company has said it has assurances from its Asian customers they would accept its beef products if it tests every carcass.

A spokesman for Creekstone Farms did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking a response to Hunt's comments.

Many Asian nations banned the importation of American beef after the December discovery of mad cow disease in a single Washington state cow. Japan, for example, has insisted on 100 percent testing for the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, before reopening its market.

The Agriculture Department, along with the rest of the meatpacking industry, has resisted the idea as an unnecessary expense that does nothing to make beef safer. U.S. cattlemen have long insisted that cattle under 24 months cannot get BSE.

But at least one of the cattle that tested positive for BSE in Japan was 21 months old, said Jerome Nietfeld, a veterinarian at Kansas State University's Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.

The cattle industry can't afford to have false-positive tests occur during private testing for mad cow, Hunt said.

"I understand what they are doing, but as an industry I'm concerned about it," Hunt said.

Creekstone wants to use the type of mad cow tests used in Japan. But Nietfeld said last year those tests initially came back with 13 BSE-positive results, although only four of them were later confirmed as accurate.

"No one knows what the consequences will be," Nietfeld said.

Ted Schroeder, a K-State agriculture economics professor, said he did not think the U.S. cattle industry could afford many false positive results because it would erode consumer confidence in beef.

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