Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Diners could feel pinch of outbreak in Europe

Baby-back pork ribs will be in short supply

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe could mean Tristate diners will see tighter supplies of baby-back pork ribs — with higher prices — this year.

        Local meat suppliers and restaurateurs said the U.S. government's import ban on European meat, announced last week, will exacerbate an already tight market for the popular ribs.

        Almost half of the baby-back ribs in this country are imported from Denmark, part of the U.S. ban.

        Local restaurants said the prices they pay for baby-back ribs have jumped almost 40 percent to about $5 a pound in the past several weeks and could jump another $1 a pound by summer.

        Nationally, wholesale prices paid by restaurants have jumped to about $4 a pound, according to the American Restaurant Association Inc., which tracks commodity prices.

        Bill Melton, owner of Walt's Hitching Post in Fort Wright, said he would have to increase menu prices soon, even though he buys all of his ribs from Chicago.

        “We're going to have to put some of it on the menu,” he said. “We can't eat all of (the price increase). We're in business, after all.”

        Paul Sturkey, owner of Sturkey's in Wyoming and Encore Cafe in West Chester, has taken ribs off his menu after a jump of 30 cents a pound earlier this week.

        “We may run them as a special if the price comes down,” he said.

        Experts agree that prices already were increasing because of tight supply, and the main impact of the European ban has not hit yet. When it does, the ribs could be even harder to get and more expensive on Tristate menus, they said.

        Last week, Outback Steakhouse said it had only eight weeks' supply of baby-back ribs in stock. If the ban is not lifted, it will substitute domestic pork ribs, it said.

        The Florida-based restaurant chain is one of the largest users of Danish ribs in the United States.

        Locally, Montgomery Inn uses only ribs from the United States in its three restaurants, vice president Evan Andrews said. It buys about 2 million pounds a year.

        Menu prices for ribs have jumped about 1.5 percent this year because of higher production costs, but that has nothing to do with the European meat ban, Mr. Andrews said.

        “It could have an indirect effect, but we're very fortunate, because we don't use Danish product.”

        Bill Thomas, owner of Barbecue Revue in Madisonville, said he is paying $4.19 a pound for baby-back ribs, up from $2.65 a pound a year ago. He also buys only domestic ribs.

        Foot-and-mouth disease is harmless to humans and seldom is fatal to livestock. It strikes cloven-hoofed animals including sheep, pigs and cows.

        It reduces the production of milk and development of meat in contaminated animals. Farmers dread the virus because it spreads so quickly, however, and livestock are immediately destroyed to contain it.

        Enquirer reporter Chuck Martin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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