Mad cow scare causes cattle prices to drop

Mike Linn

A few days can cost a cattle rancher hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue — especially when one of those days beef from a Canadian Holstein is found infected with mad cow disease.
Since news broke of the infected Holstein cattle prices for fat cattle have dropped about 20 percent, local ranchers say, and another report of infected beef could be detrimental to revenues for local ranchers.
Over the next two months John Clemmons, a rancher who lives in Kenna, is scheduled to sell 500 fat cattle from a feed lot to a processing company to slaughter for human consumption.
If cattle prices remain steady at approximately 74 cents a pound, Clemmons said he would lose about $125,000 had he sold his cattle before news of the mad cow infection broke. That’s when prices for fat cattle were teetering at an all-time high — 95 cents a pound, Clemmons said.
“Hopefully this will be short lived,” Clemmons said. “If this hangs around pretty long it’s going to hurt a lot of producers.”
But area ranchers and agriculture experts don’t believe the prices will remain low, opinions justified by slight increases in prices over the last few days.
“The last three or four days the board is kind of coming back because everybody’s realizing it’s just one case,” Roosevelt County rancher Chad Davis said. “I’m hopeful the markets are going to realize that this is just a one-time thing and that the American process for slaughtering cattle works and prices will start to come back.”
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a deadly disease that can infect humans. But the disease is only transmitted from cattle to humans when people consume the infected tissue found in the cattle’s brain or spinal cord, Roosevelt County Ag. Extension Agent Floyd McAlister said.
But most Americans don’t eat the brain or spinal cord portions of cattle meat, meaning the disease is virtually unattainable for American consumers of beef, McAlister added.
People who understand this aren’t backing off of beef, he noted, while those easy to scare may have missed a meal or two.
McAlister said standards the United States has set for inspecting beef are above and beyond those set from other countries without cases of mad cow. Because of this, McAlister believes that American beef is safe, and market prices will more than likely rise in the near future.
“I’ve been pleased that this thing hasn’t just gone erratic,” McAlister said, “but it’s still kind of on shaky ground. It needs a little bit of time to level out.”