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Editorial: 'Nation's food supply is safe

Every person in the beef industry panicked when this announcement was made. No doubt, we all expected the worst. I guess, as far as having markets collapse, we have experienced what we considered to be the worst.

USDA has done the right thing since the finding of the BSE beef. The Secretary announced immediately the recall of any meat that had been put in the consumption chain, and that involved an eight-state distribution system. It later was expanded to twelve states but, nonetheless, the meat has been recalled.

The Secretary announced further restrictions on cattle that could be slaughtered. This did not include the so-called downer cow.

I applauded the Secretary for making these kinds of decisions. It is good that the Secretary has assured the public that the use of organ meats - brain or spinal cords, where the BSE was found in this cow - is never used for human consumption.

The procedures have been completed to protect consumer safety. If those things had already been in place, this would have never been an issue.

The other thing that should have been in place since we began processing beef in such a high volume is that any cow suspected of having any illness should never be placed in the food supply until the test comes back negative for whatever the animal is suspected of having. This would prevent a lot of chaos and would probably have prevented a loss of consumer confidence in the beef industry.

Now the real point. All food served to U.S. consumers has been processed using the safest procedures possible to assure consumers that the food they purchase is safe. Everything done is based upon scientific measures for the protection of consumers – from the manner in which the animals are slaughtered to the way in which they are handled in the processing facility to the temperatures at which the meat is maintained during its journey to the dinner table.

All procedures that are dictated by sound science are followed. Many things beyond the control of farmers, packers and retailers are done because of food safety concerns. There can be no doubt that the food we process and serve in this nation is grown and tended in a manner that is absolutely safe for human consumption.

The beef producer will ultimately be the person who takes the hit for this mad cow case. Markets have already dropped more than $30 per hundredweight. This is at a time when the industry was beginning to reap profit to the producer and, I might add, a much needed profit.

The fact that the farmer will always take the first cut and the last raise is so evident in this BSE scare. The first response from the packers was lowering their bid prices for cattle.

I do not believe I have picked up any meat in the supermarket lately that reflected that the packers had decided to lower their price to the retail outlet. I can only imagine the retailers are maintaining the margin that they are paying the packer to get the beef available in their stores.

We have experienced the loss of almost all of our foreign buyers of our meat products. They have all announced the refusal to allow American fed cattle into their countries. That is a normal reaction but, hopefully, when the steps are all taken and the safety is assured, these markets will reopen.

This does, however, dictate a greater need. For several months now we have been a proponent for country of origin labeling. This case of BSE dictates the real need we have, not just to have USA meat labeled, but to have all meats labeled as to their country of origin.

The reason we need to have the country of origin labeling is very simply - every country has its own standards to produce food. Each has its standards to assure that food is processed in a manner that is acceptable to health standards. Once a country establishes its production and processing methods, it needs to have them protected along with the ability to retain a significantly higher price for the different production and processing methods utilized.

It is never cheap to do things right or to do things the best. However, in the case of our meat supply, it is essential that we do both. Certainly, we want to grow it in a manner that is acceptable to the scientific community as far as safety issues are concerned. Also, we want to process meat in a manner that is considered the best for the consumer.

USDA must stay on top of not just BSE, but any other disease that could threaten our supply of food. It is their job. We must be in the forefront in determining the standards that provide for the safe growing and processing of our food supply.

May we continue to support that effort and encourage our congressional representatives to see that, once that standard is set, we will maintain and protect our supply of beef and assure the world through our country of origin labeling, that everything is done right with the American food supply, especially the meat of choice at most dinner tables -- beef. David Waide, a farmer from West Point, is president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. e-mail:

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