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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 13:55 GMT
US beef industry holds its breath
US beef
The Far East is a key market for US beef
The discovery of mad cow disease in the US could be a devastating blow for the flourishing American beef industry.

Always a main component of the American diet, sales of beef have soared even higher over the past year as more and more people from California to Miami adopted the red meat-rich, high protein Atkins Diet.

Cattle farming is thought to be worth about $38bn, employing 200,000 people.

Indirectly, the beef industry accounts for about $170bn of economic activity and supports some 1.4 million jobs.

American cattle ranchers are now hoping that the case in Washington state remains an isolated exception.

Immediate reaction

The US has already been hit by the immediate halting of imports of American beef by its two biggest export markets - Japan and Mexico.

US BEEF INDUSTRY
US beef
97,276,500 beef cattle are raised in the US every year
There are 1,050,000 cattle farmers and ranchers
Beef is the largest volume item sold in US grocery stores
Through beef and beef by-products close to 99% of each cow is used
Source: California Cattlemen's Association
The loss of Asian markets is a blow to America's beef industry, especially Japan which takes a third of American beef sold abroad.

The European Union already bans most imports of American beef because of long standing concern about the use of growth hormones in cattle feed.

However, the US only exports about 10% of its beef, making the reaction of American consumers the single most important factor.

Many in the industry are already worried.

Jim Olson, a rancher in Stanfield, Arizona, who owns about 150 cattle, said: "I think it has the potential to hurt our industry."

'Setback'

Thad Cochran, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman admitted the discovered BSE case is "going to be a setback."

The ultimate nightmare would a repeat of what happened to British agriculture after the discovery of BSE in the 1990s, says BBC business correspondent Mark Gregory.

Consumption of beef within Britain collapsed. Export markets were lost and have still to recover, even though outright bans on British produce were lifted sometime ago.

In America, a lot will depend on whether consumers believe the industry's assurances that the systems are in place to stop one case becoming an epidemic.

And only time will tell whether Americans keep on eating one of their favourites meals.


SEE ALSO:
Barriers go up against US beef
24 Dec 03  |  Americas
First 'mad cow' case rattles US
24 Dec 03  |  Americas
Diet craze boosts US beef sales
22 Nov 03  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Farmer's anxiety over Canadian BSE
24 May 03  |  Shropshire


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