The first weeks of the mad-cow scare in the US are rippling out
through the nation's economy.
In one way or another - from the tons of pet food made of "meat
byproducts" for nearly 140 million cats and dogs, to the $200
million in beef waiting aboard ships and in port freezers, to meat-
processing and trucking companies sending workers home - the $175
billion industry affects many millions of Americans.
"Beef. It's What's for Dinner," proclaims the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association, and American eating habits bear that
out. Some 78 million meals featuring beef are served every day,
according to industry and government figures, and it's not just the
pot roast or filet mignon. Beef extract made from the remains of
slaughtered cows is in taco fillings, pizza toppings, and other
popular foods as well.
Whether or not they're regular red-meat eaters, Americans are
watching the situation closely. While two-thirds still think the
beef supply is safe, according to a CNN-Time poll released over the
weekend, a substantial 27 percent think otherwise, and they have
either reduced their consumption of beef or stopped eating it
Officials think they know - but still aren't absolutely certain -
where the Holstein slaughtered a month ago and later diagnosed with
bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) came from, as well as how it
contracted mad-cow disease. Most of the 81 cows in the suspect herd
have yet to be tracked down. Livestock on a third farm in Washington
State have now been quarantined. US Department of Agriculture
officials hope to be able to account for the 20,000 pounds of
recalled meat in the next few days.
But as new information on the case is revealed almost daily, it's
unclear what the long-term economic impact will be.
"The US beef export market lost to mad-cow disease won't come
back anytime soon," says Purdue University agricultural economist
Philip Paarlberg. "We are going to have to assure our trading
partners that the beef supply is safe, and that will take time."
"The mad-cow trade restrictions the United States imposed on
Canada on May 20 remained rigid until Aug. 8, and even then the
restrictions were only partially eased," says Dr. Paarlberg. "In the
world's view, it's a North American beef market, not two separate
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is moving quickly to
address the issue. Among the new rules for beef production: "Downer"
cattle (those injured or too sick to stand on their own) may not be
used for human food; slaughtered animals inspected for mad-cow
disease may not be processed for sale until test results are known;
slaughterhouse techniques that can mix brain or spinal-cord tissue
with muscle meat must not be used. …