Dairy Farmers Relieved, Beef Farmers Worry Over 'Mad Cow' Plan
Apr. 03, 1996
GREAT HALLINGBURY, England (AP) _ Dairy farmer Andy Streeter was a happy man Wednesday, after the European Union agreed on a program that will compensate him and other farmers for the destruction of up to 4.7 million cattle.
``I am encouraged. They are doing something to restore public confidence and get the British beef industry back on its feet,'' said Streeter, as farmhands herded cows into the milking parlor.
Farmers with beef cattle, however, are still wondering what the government plans to do to cushion them from plummeting prices, hostile consumers and a blanket ban on British beef exports imposed by the European Union because of mad cow disease, a brain-wasting sickness.
Britain agreed with its European partners Wednesday to stop slaughtering cattle more than 30 months old for meat. Instead, up to 15,000 carcasses a week _ mainly older dairy cows _ will have to be incinerated or otherwise disposed of, and farmers will receive compensation.
But for many farmers, the crisis that erupted when Britain said mad cow disease was the probable cause of at least eight human deaths still means ruin.
``Yes, we'll get something for the animal when it is destroyed, but nothing for the loss of further income,'' said David Morris of nearby Sawbridgeworth. He stands to lose 200 over-age cattle, or half his herd.
``And in the meantime, beef's not selling and the industry is on its knees,'' he said.
Seeking to boost the depressed beef market, the European Union said Tuesday that it would buy 50,000 tons of beef to stabilize prices _ but most will come from continental Europe.
British Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg said Wednesday that demand for beef was picking up, although that could be due partly to the fact that supermarkets were offering discounts.
About 800 cattle were sold at auction in Britain on Tuesday, compared to 4,000 on a typical day before the scare, said Peter Reynolds, a spokesman for the Meat and Livestock Commission.
He said the cows sold for an average of 74 cents a pound, up from the recent low of 62 cents a pound.
In another piece of good news for dairy farmers, scientists at a meeting in Geneva said milk and milk products are safe even in countries with a high prevalence of mad cow disease _ though meat and medicines containing beef products might not be.
``There is evidence ... to suggest that milk will not transmit these diseases,'' said Joseph Losos, director of Canada's Center for Disease Control in Ottawa, and president of the conference.
Even meat itself carries only a ``minimal'' risk of infection, said Joe Gibbs of the National Institute of Neurology in Bethesda, Md., who was co-president of the meeting.
The two-day conference called by the World Health Organization drew some 30 scientists from 14 countries.
The scientists said every country should kill and safely dispose of all infected animals to prevent the disease from spreading.
Hogg, Britain's agriculture minister, gave few details Wednesday of British plans to destroy large quantities of cattle, a daunting task considering Britain's incinerators have a capacity of only about 1,000 carcasses a week.
But he said the government was also considering whether to destroy whole herds that had high rates of mad cow disease.
The prospect frightened Streeter, whose herd of Friesians has come down with 16 cases of mad cow disease since 1986.
``That would be disastrous for me,'' he said. ``I just can't imagine it.''
Morris, who has had six mad cow disease cases in his herd, estimated his losses could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
``I've spent a lifetime building up this herd,'' he said.