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Local ranchers dismayed by report of
mad cow disease discovery on Washington farm

published Dec. 24, 2003


Ranchers in Southern Oregon were dismayed Tuesday at news that mad cow disease has been detected in a neighboring state.

"It's going to have some pretty major effects on our cattle industry," said Tracey Liskey, a rancher on Lower Klamath Lake Road and second vice president of the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Liskey and others in the beef industry are concerned that a confirmed case of mad cow disease in Washington could make consumers afraid to eat beef, leading to weaker demand.

"We finally got beef prices up where they need to be to sustain the cattle business. This could just kill it," Liskey said.

"Prices are probably 15 to 20 cents a pound higher than they were a year or a two ago. They're probably at record highs for feeder steers."

Cattle were Oregon's second-leading agricultural commodity in 2002, with sales estimated at $464 million statewide.

Cattle have long been the primary farm commodity in Klamath and Lake counties. Sales in Klamath County were estimated last year at $55.7 million, and in Lake County at $22.6 million, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Besides the potential impact on markets, Liskey said there are also practical considerations for ranchers. Many steers raised on local ranches are bound for feedlots in eastern Washington.

"Quarantines are another thing you worry about," he said. "If a feedlot gets quarantined, and you were getting ready to ship cattle there, that's a real problem."

Bill Tracy, a rancher north of Lakeview, said there's likely to be an immediate short-term effect on beef markets, and on income for ranchers planning to sell cattle soon.

"Most of our marketing is done for the year, but I'm sure there are others who are going to feel the effects of this," Tracy said.

Ranchers will be eager to see whether more cases of the disease surface, he added.

"Until things get sorted out, and we see if this is just an isolated case, we won't know about the long-term effects."

Tracy said there's little chance the disease could show up in Southern Oregon anytime soon. The case found in Washington occurred in a dairy cow, which had probably consumed a complex mix of feed and supplements, he said.

"It's certainly different than our range operations," he said. "With the type of feed that we feed, there's hardly any way our cattle can get the disease."

Ron Hathaway, chairman of the Extension Service's office in Klamath County, agreed that there's little risk of the disease spreading to Klamath County.

"The movement of cattle in our area is yearling stock going to feedlots in the Pasco area," Hathaway said. "It's a one-way trip. They're going there to be fed in feedlots, and they go from there to a processing facility."

But Hathaway also agreed that news of the disease in the U.S. could unravel steady gains in cattle prices seen in recent months.

Ironically, he said, it was the occurrence of a single case of mad cow disease in Canada earlier this year that helped bolster prices in the U.S., Hathaway said. The U.S. last May temporarily curtailed imports of beef from Canada.

"The beef industry here is doing well in part because of the cutoff of beef from Canada, but there's also a strong demand for beef because of things like the Atkins diet. It's finally OK to eat beef again."

Liskey said consumers should trust federal officials who are trying to assure consumers that beef is still safe to eat.

"America grows good food and good beef. But people get sick, and animals get sick. We've just got to make sure it doesn't get into the food supply, and that's why we have the safety factors we do."

City Editor Todd Kepple can be reached at 885-4422, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at tkepple@heraldandnews.com.





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