Thursday, February 15, 2001

Mad cow disease not a problem here

Farmers say rules protect U.S. herd

By Patrick Stack
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cattle farmers in the Tristate remain confident that mad cow disease — currently spreading throughout Europe — won't affect the millions of beef cattle in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

        Although the disease has not appeared in the United States, farmers worry that fearful consumers might cut their beef intake.

        Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are home to more than 3.3 million beef cattle. With about 2 million head, Kentucky has the most cattle of any state east of the Mississippi River and the eighth-largest cattle population in the country. Ohio ranks 29th, with about 700,000 beef cattle, and Indiana is 32nd, with 670,000. “If there's a concern among the local producers, it's that the consumer will misunderstand and think the concern is immediate and local, but it's not,” said Chip Foltz, president of the Northern Kentucky Cattlemen's Association.

[photo] Chip Foltz feeds grain to cattle on his Boone County farm. He says Americans shouldn't be concerned about mad cow disease, because of safeguards instituted to protect the U.S. herd.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        In Kentucky and southern Ohio, many farmers raise calves for sale to feedlots in Western states. The calves are weaned from the cows and fed grass before being sold and shipped to lots in states such as Kansas, Texas and Nebraska, where they are fed for slaughter.

        But farmers here say industry safeguards and FDA regulations will preserve consumer safety in beef cattle on the feedlots, where millions of cattle are fed factory-produced feed to grow large enough.

        As a result of the disease, the FDA mandated in 1997 that ruminant animal proteins, such as sheep, goats and cattle, not be used in feed for other ruminant, or four-stomached, animals.

        Beef and cattle feed from Europe were banned for import into the United States to avoid spread of the disease.

        Farmers here are not generally involved in the production or use of cattle feed on a large scale, but say they are confident in FDA and feed industry regulations.

        “It's a matter of (feed providers and producers) just doing things as regulations bound them to,” Mr. Foltz said.

        Those regulations include making sure any feed plant that handles prohibited materials, such as meat and bone meal from ruminant animals, properly labels its products, and equipment used in producing the feed is cleaned properly, said Gloria Dunnavan, director of the Division of Compliance for the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

        The FDA requires that labels must read “Do Not Feed to Cattle or Other Ruminants” if a feed contains ruminant proteins.

        Farmers have a responsibility to monitor cattle feed, the FDA's Ms. Dunnavan said, and local farmers are double-checking their practices and suppliers.

        Laura Freeman, president, CEO and founder of Laura's Lean Beef in Lexington, said her company has received questions from customers about feeding practices, but that most consumers — seeking the company's naturally raised beef sold at premium markets and butchers — were well-informed about the spread of the disease.

        “We've definitely picked up some consumer concern, and without a doubt the number of calls have gone up,” she said. “But most people are reasonably well-informed about the fact that this is an issue in Europe and just wanted us to do a little follow-up on our feeding practices.”

        The FDA's Ms. Dunnavan says that farmers like Mrs. Freeman are doing the right thing in exercising caution and concern.

        “We encourage all ruminant feeders, and actually anyone with food-producing animals, to know what you're getting (in feed),” she said. “As a ruminant feeder, it's really important for that calf-raiser to know something about their supplier.”

        Jackie Murray, a member of the Ohio Beef Council, raises calves on a farm in Xenia for sale to feedlots. She said producers at all stages must monitor the entire process from “gate to plate.”

        “I think the consumer can set their mind at ease with the restrictions we have in the U.S.” she said. “We have the safest food supply in the world, and we haven't got there by not monitoring the agricultural food supply.”

        Mrs. Freeman said her company does not feed any animal proteins to its cattle, even those allowed by the FDA. Farmers who raise animals for the company sign a contract prohibiting them from using animal proteins in feed.

        While ruminant proteins are forbidden for use in ruminant feed, they can still be used in feed for non-ruminants, such as hogs or poultry. Rendering and feed plants that produce both ruminant and non-ruminant feed are required to label their products and clean their facilities extensively, Ms. Dunnavan said.

        “If they're receiving prohibited material and also making ruminant feed, they have to have certain safeguards in place,” she said.

        Mr. Foltz said Americans have no cause for concern, and shouldn't have to alter their dining habits as Europeans have done.

        “If they want to eat fish over there, that's fine, but beef is for us,” he said.


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