Mad cow not hurting area beef sales

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 28, 2003

Beef is what's for dinner at Patricia Wilson's house - and she is not about to change that.

Even though America's first confirmed case of mad cow disease was announced earlier this week, Wilson said she will continue to put beef products on her dining room table.

"I'm not that concerned," she said Saturday as she was picking out a package of hamburger at Pick 'N Save in the Ironton Hills Plaza. "It's not going to stop me from buying (beef). My kids need meat, and we like it."

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According to Doug Hankins, the Ironton Pick 'N Save assistant manager, Wilson's sentiments seem to be shared with the vast majority of local consumers.

Earlier this week the announcement was made that a Washington State Holstein cow tested positive for the disease that is officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE. The disease is only known to spread through the animal's brain and neurological tissues, which the American public is assured was not processed from this particular cow.

"We haven't seen any affect in our meat department, as far as beef sales go," Hankins said. "Our store only buys black angus, which the FDA inspects. I believe we're the only store in the area that sells only black angus. It's a little more expensive, but it is worth it."

Pick 'N Save has gone a step further to assure its customers the store's beef is free from the disease. Letters from the local store's manager, Chuck Donohoo hang in the meat section, stating the store took "immediate action to investigate the situation" and the store's supplier, Roundys, "has not received any products from this supplier" from which the infected cow was found.

Hankins said the store has fielded a few questions regarding the risk of mad cow disease, but overall the customers have not shown too much concern.

"I think some of them were worried until we put the sign up," Hankins said. "We went through every step to let them know they have nothing to worry about."

While most area consumers seem to be relatively certain they will not get sick from eating beef, at least one is worried the discovery will hurt her in a different way - in the wallet.

"I'm afraid (beef) prices will go up," said Janice Haeberlain of Ironton as she looked at beef products in the store's meat section. "We know this beef is not coming from the West, but it is a cause for a little concern."

No American official has estimated yet the financial fallout from the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, but the Bush administration told Congress in 2001 that the beef industry could lose $15 billion.

Even though U.S. beef producers stand to lose

billions, economic and agriculture reports predict beef prices, which have been at record highs, are likely to fall as result of the case of mad cow disease. However, it could take a few weeks before consumers see those lower prices.

At least 11 countries have banned American beef imports after the mad cow case in Washington was announced.

Part of the problem, according to Pick 'N Save meat cutter Aaron Donley, is the media.

"That's why everyone gets in such an uproar about it," Donley said of the coverage the situation has received, particularly on national television. "It was only one cow."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.