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AGRICULTURE REPORT — Economic Effects of Mad Cow Disease - 2004-01-13

Broadcast: January 13, 2004

This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. Reports suggest that the first case of mad cow disease in the United States has not worried the public very much. Officials point out that the sick cow came from Canada, although the case remains under investigation. But the American beef industry is worried about the economic effects. More than thirty nations have banned American beef.

North America has now had two confirmed cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Last May, Canada announced a case of the brain-wasting disease in a cow in Alberta. People who eat infected meat can get a rare human form. So the United States and other countries banned imports of Canadian beef.

The ban had a sharp effect on prices. The Economic Research Service of the Agriculture Department reports on prices in the United States. Its information shows that beef prices jumped almost thirty percent in one year. The research service estimated that prices would remain high because of limited supply. People who want to lose weight have also increased demand for beef and other high-protein foods.

In August, the United States began again to accept some Canadian beef from younger cattle. Imports of live cattle are not yet included.

Then, on December twenty-third, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the first American case of the disease. Several nations moved within hours to ban American beef. These included Japan, the biggest importer of American beef.

Japan has increased its imports almost every year since the early nineteen-seventies. But, last August, Japan raised import taxes on beef from thirty-eight percent to fifty-percent. The higher customs are meant to help the Japanese beef industry. That industry was hurt by its own outbreak of the disease in two-thousand-one.

Late last week, a Japanese delegation met with officials in Washington to discuss steps to end the ban. Earlier, Japan said new measures to prevent the spread of the disease were not enough. These include a move to keep all tissue that may carry the infection out of human food. Other steps include a ban on the use of mechanically separated meat in food, and the use of sick or injured cows for food.

Japanese officials called for greater steps to test for mad cow disease in the United States. In Japan, every cow is tested for the infection.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Robert Cohen.