What change, if any, are you seeing in short-term business as a result of the recent discovery of mad cow, or BSE, in the United States? And, what long-term effects (positive or negative) do you expect as a result of the discovery?

District Voices

Published March 31, 2004  | March 2004 issue

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We had some inquiries on our Web site and in the restaurants right after the incident but nothing probably in three weeks. I don't really see any long term impact. ... We sell primarily muscles and roast, a little bit of ground beef, and the BSE comes from the central nervous system. ... I tell everybody, "You know, 30,000 people are going to die this winter because of the flu; the chances of you getting mad cow disease are pretty slim." ... Of course you should be concerned because public opinion is everything, but I think it'll be okay as long as they take the steps to make sure that it's just an isolated incident.
Pete Bedzyk, President
Timber Lodge Steak House—Bloomington, Minn.

For the month of January I would say that our business is up about 45 percent. ... We have increased our [beef] supply immediately by about 60 percent. We are looking at further increases in supply; it's all contingent on availability of organic cattle. ... If I had the supply, I could triple my sales from last year to this year without any trouble, and that's just from what has happened in the last 30 days. Demand is clearly outstripping supply. While I was cautiously optimistic in the beginning of December, I am optimistic with reckless abandon now.
Michael Levine, President
The Organic Meat Co., a division of the Organic Valley Cooperative—LaFarge, Wis.

My beef sales are unaffected. I've only had one customer since this went on that said they wouldn't buy any more beef. Everyone just jokes about it basically around here; it's not a big, serious issue. Most people I think are levelheaded and understand it enough. ... The only thing that affected my beef sales are the high prices that went into effect earlier this fall.
Dan Johnson, Meat Department Manager
Soo SuperValu—Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

BSE has created an awareness from retailers that they need to be looking to source-verify or make sure that the product that they're marketing is consumer acceptable, because the consumers have been made so aware of what's happening with BSE. And that has affected us. We're natural lamb production, source-verified; country of origin is on our label already so it makes our marketing somewhat more effective. ... In the near term, [I see] increased marketing or sales and in the long term I think it'll be a growing issue.
David Merwin, CEO
Dakota Lamb Growers Cooperative—Hettinger, N.D.

The biggest [immediate change] would be price volatility of our product. ... It just seems like at the Chicago Board of Trade any news—anything—this board can jump, a little bit up, a little bit down, in a matter of hours. It makes it tough. ... [For the long term] I think once we get things settled down, the biggest effect we're going to see out of all this will be, number one, more testing, and number two, we're going to see an animal ID system quicker than what we had anticipated.
Bryan Nagel, Feed Lot Operator—Springfield, S.D.
Member of State Animal Industry Board

With respect to the cow/calf producers in Montana, the impact that they are feeling right now is obviously the initial economic reaction, where we saw that the prices dropped probably 15 percent to 20 percent. I think we also recognize that we're very fortunate that things didn't get worse. ... [According to Cattle-Fax] prices today are better than they were in January of 2003. So in spite of the adverse economic impact of the discovery of BSE, we've come through it in remarkably good condition. ... I think, longer term, the impact we're going to see is created by the actions taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a regulatory agency.
Steve Pilcher, Executive Vice President
Montana Stockgrowers Association—Helena, Mont.

Editor's note: Interviews were conducted in late January.