Neurologically Challenged Cattle
US to Slaughter Imported Cows
U.S. acts to avoid disease in cattle
Cookout Serves Up Praise of U.S. Beef
Canadian Update
Safeguards Urged to Keep `Mad Cow Disease' From U.S.

NY STATE SUSPECTS 13 ANIMALS OF MAD-COW LINK
ALABAMA RANCHER WANTS $600,000 TO DESTROY HERD
IMPORTED COWS TESTED FOR MAD COW DISEASE
COLORADO BEEF INDUSTRY WILL PLAY IT SAFE
LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY MOVES TO AVERT U.S. CRISIS
BEEF SCARE IN BRITAIN MAY BOLSTER CATTLE BREEDERS IN UNITED STATES

SHEEP PARTS FAIL TO CAUSE COW DISEASE IN U.S. TEST
WILL MAD COW DISEASE STRIKE U.S. CATTLE?
CATTLE RANCHERS HAVE BIG BEEF WITH LOW PRICES
FRENCH HERD KILLED DUE TO MAD-COW DISEASE
MANY UNKNOWNS SURROUND DREADED 'MAD COW DISEASE'
AGENCY SAYS BEEF IS SAFE, BUT CAFETERIA IS BUYING ARGENTINE

MEETING THE PC LITMUS TEST

Phoenix Gazette (PG) - Tuesday, April 2, 1996
Edition: Final Section: Editorial/Opinion Page: B4

Given America's present passion for political correctness, we're absolutely, positively sure that there would have been no Mad Cow Disease had it broken out on this side of the Atlantic.

While the cattle might have reacted the same way, we believe Americans, especially those liberal Democrats in the Department of Agriculture, would have been more concerned with their plight - and dubbed the ailment something more sensitive, such as Neurologically Challenged Cattle Syndrome.


US to Slaughter Imported Cows

Philadelphia Daily News ... April 10, 1996

Twenty one states yesterday began ordering the slaughter of British cattle because of fears over deadly mad-cow disease. All 113 British cattle known to be in the United States would be incinerated and their brains examined for the sponge-like holes caused by the disease, officials said.

``We want these cattle eliminated. The stakes are too high,'' said Gary Weber, an animal-health expert at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, an industry group.

The measure was precautionary because no symptoms of the disease had ever emerged in twice-yearly monitoring of the cattle, which were imported before a 1989 ban on imports from Britain was imposed.

``We're doing this not because these animals have any symptoms, but because we don't want to have the disease here,'' said New York state Agriculture Commissioner Donald Davidsen.


NY STATE SUSPECTS 13 ANIMALS OF MAD-COW LINK

Buffalo News (BN) - Tuesday, April 9, 1996

A handful of New York cattle have been placed under quarantine after agriculture officials determined they could be carrying mad- cow disease. The state Department of Agriculture and Markets is negotiating with three New York State farmers to destroy 13 British-origin cattle, officials said.

Two of the cattle are in Cobleskill, Schoharie County; 10 are in Stormville, Dutchess County; and one is in Holcomb, near Rochester. State and federal agriculture officials said they do not think the cows pose a threat to the nation's food supply or cattle herds. The United States in currently monitoring 133 cattle of British origin.

IMPORTED COWS TESTED FOR MAD COW DISEASE

Dayton Daily News (DA) - FRIDAY, May 24, 1996
By: David Orenstein\Albany Times Union

ALBANY, N.Y. - * British cows are being destroyed by the USDA to ensure that BSE doesn't spread in this country. Thirteen cattle of British origin taken from New York farms in April to undergo a fatal test for mad cow disease have received a posthumous clean bill of health from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kay Wheeler, a USDA veterinarian, cited test reports noting that the brains of the cattle had ``no lesion patterns consistent with bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE.''

The department has been trying to buy and kill 113 cattle nationwide imported from Britain during the 1980s to quell concerns among the beef-eating public that the disease that has tainted the British herd could spread.

If the British cattle in the United States are not destroyed, Wheeler said, the public might hold on to the perception that the American meat supply is in possible danger and demand similar measures. Killing and testing the animals allows the USDA to squash even the remotest risk. The disease, however, is only spread to an animal or person eating an infected animal.

By far most Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease cases -- at least 75 percent in Prusiner's estimation -- are ``sporadic,'' and no one knows how their normal prion proteins alter to become rogue proteins.

In the U.S., Prusiner is concerned because the Department of Agriculture devotes very little money to research on the role of prion proteins in scrapie, BSE and other animal forms of the fatal disease.

His concern is shared by Dr. Richard Marsh, a University of Wisconsin specialist in the nervous system diseases of animals. Marsh has studied a rare disorder called mink encephalopathy for 34 years and, although like many other scientists he initially rejected Prusiner's concept of prions, he is now convinced that mink too can die of a prion disease that is strikingly similar to scrapie and mad cow disease.

Marsh said he has found at least three different strains of Prusiner's prion protein in mink encephalopathy, and in Britain some 29 different strains of the disease agent have been detected. As a result, Marsh is joining Prusiner in urging the Department of Agriculture to greatly increase its support for research into the prion diseases of animals. This is particularly important in cattle, he noted, because cows in the Midwest still occasionally die with delayed symptoms of the brain disease resembling the cattle disorder that has so alarmed Britain's public, its government and its livestock industry.


STATE BEEF INDUSTRY WILL PLAY IT SAFE

Rocky Mountain News (RM) - Sunday, April 28, 1996
By: Deborah Frazier Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

American beef is safe from Britain's mad cow disease, but Colorado's beef industry supports a feed restriction to prevent the spread of such a malady.

Jerry Bohlander, the state veterinarian, said U.S. researchers have been tracking several other varieties of spongiform encephalopathy, but haven't been able to transmit the fatal disease by feeding cattle protein supplement from diseased animals.


LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY MOVES TO AVERT U.S. CRISIS

San Jose Mercury News (SJ) - Tuesday, April 2, 1996
By: Glennda Chui, Mercury News Science Writer

Not everyone is convinced BSE is not found in the US. Dr. Richard Marsh, a veterinarian at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, says he has investigated a number of cases in which ranch-raised mink came down with a BSE-like illness after eating meat from ''downer cows'' - cows that had been lying down, apparently ill, for at least 24 hours.

Mink farmers typically pick up downer cows from neighboring dairy farms and grind them up to feed their animals, Marsh said.

Since 1947, 23 mink ranches have been hit by the mink strain of BSE. ''You can trace it back to a feed real easy in mink,'' Marsh said. ''And then you're left with the question, what was it in the feed that affected them? And what we find is it's these downer cows that are the common link. You don't have to be genius to figure it out.''

While mad mink are hardly a public health problem, Marsh said, they are ''a sentinel species telling us about a rare infection in cattle.'' The lesson, he said, is that ranchers should stop feeding cows to cows.


SHEEP PARTS FAIL TO CAUSE COW DISEASE IN U.S. TEST

Seattle Times (SE) - Friday March 29, 1996
By: TARA GRUZEN CHICAGO TRIBUNE CHICAGO - ATTEMPTS TO re-create the conditions under which British cattle have contracted "mad-cow disease" have not been successful, but researchers still can't declare U.S. beef 100 percent safe. CHICAGO - For six years researchers at the National Animal Disease Center have been trying to infect an experimental pool of cattle with "mad-cow disease." So far, they have been unsuccessful. The method being used at the USDA agricultural research agency in Ames, Iowa, is one that British scientists theorize led to the outbreak of "mad-cow disease" there: Scrapie-infected sheep parts, suspected transmitters of the disease, are placed in cattle's feed. To representatives of the Cattleman's Association - the trade group for cattle ranchers - the project's results say a lot, they hope: Either scrapie, a fatal nervous disease in sheep and goats, in the USDA research is different from that in Britain, or scrapie isn't the culprit at all. But for public-health experts, the issue isn't so easily resolved. They worry about the unpredictable consequences of not taking enough precautions. Britain banned feeding sheep organs to cattle in 1989, but the United States never followed suit. Whatever safety measures exist have been initiated by the feed industry itself and are followed only on a voluntary basis. Meat-rendering companies have been advised not to include sheep organs in cattle feed, but there are no government regulations that prohibit the practice. "We're playing with fire," said Paul Brown, medical director for the U.S. Public Health Service. "We have to worry about things that might happen and prevent them." The current scare over "mad-cow disease," bovine spongiform encephalopathy, came last week when Britain announced a possible link between the animal ailment and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a similar central nervous system disease in humans. Researchers and government officials in the United States responded by meeting in Washington to discuss surveillance and feeding practices. There have no cases of the cattle disease reported in the United States, and an import ban on beef from countries where animals have contracted the disease has been in place since 1989. Though the Food and Drug Administration proposed banning sheep parts from cattle feed in August of 1994, the legislation remains in limbo. "There really aren't any government restrictions," said Dr. Tom Gomez of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "You're never going to be able to give someone total assurance that it's not going to happen here." The Food and Drug Administration is considering Britain's new evidence to determine whether it information warrants calling for passage of regulations proposed in 1994, said FDA spokesman Lawrence Bachorik. "We're confident that we have safeguards in place, but we are going to take this very seriously," Bachorik said. "We're moving to a decision very quickly." Gomez said the possibility of the British cow epidemic being repeated in the United States is highly unlikely, largely because America's beef industry uses far less sheep parts in cattle feed. Most companies in the United States have heeded the industry's advice to keep sheep and goat from cattle feed, said Gary Weber of the National Cattleman's Association. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports between 200 and 250 cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the United States each year. There has not been any increase in the number of incidents over the past few years.

ALABAMA RANCHER WANTS $600,000 TO DESTROY HERD

Orlando Sentinel (OS) - Tuesday, April 9, 1996

BIRMINGHAM, ALA. - A rancher who owns the nation's largest herd of British cattle is driving a hard bargain with the state of Alabama, which wants to buy and destroy the animals in case they have been exposed to mad cow disease. Forrest Ingram of Vinemont is seeking about $600,000 for 29 Charolais cattle, which were brought into the country before fears of the illness prompted a federal import ban. The state can condemn and take the cattle, but must pay a fair price. And it doesn't think $600,000 is fair, even though Ingram's cattle have shown no signs of the illness.


Canada Update

COPYRIGHT 1996 Maclean Hunter (Canada)

Canada's lone brush with BSE came in November, 1993, when an Alberta rancher killed a cow he had imported from Britain in 1987. It was diagnosed with BSE, the only such case to date in North America. As a precaution, agriculture officials slaughtered and incinerated the entire herd of more than 200 animals, then ordered the destruction of all 175 British cattle imported into Canada between 1982 and 1990. Those moves, controversial at the time, were last week being hailed as the height of wisdom.

"Current wisdom is that these products are safe." Nevertheless, Marks & Spencer Canada said its 50 stores would as a precaution remove 11 sorts of candies, cakes and biscuits containing beef-based gelatin.


HERD KILLED DUE TO MAD-COW DISEASE

Buffalo News (BN) - Sunday, May 12, 1996

RENNES, FRANCE (REUTERS) - France has slaughtered a herd of 220 cows after one was found infected with mad-cow disease, the 18th case reported in France, officials said Saturday.

The herd, from a farm at Saint-Nicodeme in Brittany, was one of two where the Agriculture Ministry May 3 reported a case of the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which rots the brains of cattle. The other herd, 123 cattle in neighboring Normandy, was destroyed last week. Under French rules, entire herds are killed if a single infected animal is found.

France led European nations in banning imports of British beef after London said there might be a link between eating infected beef and contracting the disease's deadly human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The infected animal in Saturday's herd was a dairy cow born before 1988 that apparently contracted the disease from contaminated British feed, said Jean-Francois Pages, an official of the prefect's office in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany. Britain has reported about 160,000 cases of the disease.

BEEF SCARE IN BRITAIN MAY BOLSTER CATTLE BREEDERS IN UNITED STATES

St. Louis Post Dispatch (SL) - Wednesday, March 27, 1996
By: Tim Poor

WASHINGTON - "Mad cow" disease in Britain could make for some glad cow breeders in Missouri and the rest of the United States. Although some government officials and cattlemen's groups are publicly wary about taking unseemly advantage of the British crisis, others believe the United States should waste no time in filling gaps in overseas markets.

"The mad cow occurrence gives us the opportunity to promote new exports on beef . . . to toot our own horn," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who told Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman as much in a letter this week.

Skelton hopes the beef scare will give the United States added leverage in trade meetings this week with the World Trade Organization in which the United States is trying to overturn a European ban on much American beef. The ban has been in effect since 1990 after European market officials claimed the beef was unsafe because of a growth hormone injected into cattle.

"There's nothing wrong with American beef," Skelton said. "The price is right, and the quality is outstanding. This gives us the opportunity to tell anybody and everybody about good Missouri and American beef." Adding to Skelton's sense of urgency is the poor condition of the beef-producing business in the United States. The Department of Ag riculture announced Tuesday that record beef supplies are likely to push this year's prices to the lowest level in nearly a decade. Those low prices and higher feed costs have combined to make this year a money-loser for many of Missouri's 77,000 cattle producers.

Tom Amontree, a spokesman for the agriculture department, didn't want to comment on the impact of mad cow disease, but he did say the government was fighting to get rid of the ban on American beef. "If that was lifted, our industry would be happy to assist the Europeans in whatever way possible," he said. "We'd love to sell it to them."

Even if the European market keeps its ban on U.S. beef, producers might be able to export the cattle themselves - without the hormone - if Britain winds up thinning its herds to allay public fear. "It could very well be an opportunity if they destroy a large portion of their herd," said Jeff Rose, an international livestock marketing specialist with the Missouri Department of Agriculture. "It could help the beef industry tremendously in this country."

Alisa Harrison, a spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said, "We would do anything possible to help them replenish their herd." The association represents 230,000 U.S. cattle producers.

Cookout Serves Up Praise of U.S. Beef

Los Angeles Times (LT) - FRIDAY April 5, 1996

State agriculture officials, undaunted by the mad cow scare sweeping Europe, held an impromptu cookout to hail the safety of U.S. beef. Munching on smoked brisket at a popular barbecue spot in Austin, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry criticized the media for stoking fears among domestic beef consumers. The agricultural commissioner said evidence that bovine spongiform encephalopothy, known as BSE, will cause human brain disorders was "circumstantial" and that the issue has been politicized in Britain and Europe.

Separately, the U.S. beef industry is considering as an option a promotional campaign in Europe touting American beef as free of the disease, an export official said. "We'll look at all the options, and that'd certainly be one of them on the table," said Thad Lively, economist at the U.S. Meat Export Federation, an association of U.S. meat exporters based in Denver.

U.S. acts to avoid disease in cattle


Washington Times (WT) - Friday, March 29, 1996
By: David Field

U.S. officials are moving to head off an American version of the latest scare in Britain and the rest of Europe over unhealthy beef from cattle with "mad cow" disease. The malady has never been reported in U.S.-raised cattle.

If there were a U.S. version, it could stem from sheep tissue that's used in cattle feed and has been linked by some to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, as mad cow disease is formally known.

BSE is becoming suspect as a source of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal disorder of the human brain that strikes about 250 Americans a year. Britain's cattle are thought to have caught BSE a decade ago by eating feed made from sheep, which can carry scrapie, a related brain disease.

Britain in 1989 banned cattle feed containing ground-up sheep parts, but a public panic spread through England last week when the British government said a few cases of the human illness might have been contracted by eating infected beef. In 1989, the United States banned imported feed from countries where BSE had been found. No beef can be imported from Britain under other U.S. rules.

Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering banning all U.S. use of sheep tissue in cattle feed, imported or domestic. The FDA will decide within two weeks whether to impose a formal ban on using sheep parts in cattle feed because of possible links to mad cow disease, an agency spokesman said yesterday.

"We are going to move very quickly in a seven- to 10-day time frame," FDA spokesman Larry Bachorik said. "There's never been a documented case of BSE in the United States, and we're confident that we have the appropriate safeguards in place."

Livestock are being tested. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which does the testing, has found no cases since monitoring began in 1989. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told reporters in Houston on Wednesday that the agency had stepped up surveillance because "it is important to quell the fears of American consumers."

"The disease is no threat to the United States. As far as we are aware, we are free of the disease," Mr. Glickman said, after a speech to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. In 1994, the FDA proposed making all sheep-derived cattle feed illegal, but it never formally took that step. After the British announcement last week, the FDA began reviewing the feed ban again.

The livestock industry voluntarily stopped using most cattle feed made from sheep several years ago, although sheep protein still is used in such items as pet food, according to a spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the Washington-based trade group for U.S. beef producers. Feeding cattle with meat and bone meal made from rendered cows and sheep began in the United States in the 1980s.

"The FDA must act immediately to avoid a potential epidemic among cattle," said Jeremy Rifkin, who has taken many public positions on animal nutrition and human food issues. Mr. Rifkin, the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, said his group plans to sue the FDA to force it to move on the animal-feed ban.

The lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, will ask the court to order the FDA to impose an immediate halt to all feeding of animal protein to cows and other cud-chewing animals, and "to develop a separate, significant epidemiological study to determine the incidence of BSE in cattle that have consumed feed with the rendered parts," foundation spokesman Ted Waugh said.

About 14 percent of cattle by weight is fed back to other cattle, the foundation said, but the cattlemen's group disputed the figure, saying the proportion eaten by cattle is much lower. The rendered animal protein "goes into a lot of things, pet food, cosmetics, soap," the association's spokeswoman said.

"Scientific evidence indicates that BSE does not spread from cattle to cattle or from cattle to other species by physical contact," the cattlemen's group said.


WILL MAD COW DISEASE STRIKE U.S. CATTLE?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PT) - Sunday, March 31, 1996
By: LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Federal officials are confident that the mad cow disease found in Britain has not occurred in the United States and that existing policies are adequate to protect the beef supply. A meeting of 70 animal and public health experts convened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reviewed current policies last week and concluded without recommending any further safeguards.

But at least one expert does not share Hueston's confidence. He is Dr. Richard F. Marsh of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who has done research on a disease of minks that resembles mad cow disease. Marsh notes that scrapie exists among sheep in America, and that sheep offal is sometimes fed to cows here. He would like to see more sophisticated and systematic testing of cows to be sure that mad cow disease is not present.

``The fact that we have no reported cases of (mad cow disease) in this country gives a false sense of security because it is not based on sufficient testing,'' Marsh said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not actively monitor for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is difficult to diagnose in any case. Epidemiologists say at least a small rise in cases could occur without being noticed.

Hueston said the Department of Agriculture has carefully studied the sheep-to-cow transmission possibility but has been unable to verify it in the United States, either in theory or practice. Scrapie-infected tissue collected from sheep in this country has been injected into the brains of cattle without causing the damage typical of mad cow disease, suggesting the scrapie agent that infects American sheep may differ from that infecting British sheep.

Some three dozen marketed drugs are derived from cattle tissue and organs, and hundreds more contain fractions of cow blood. Gelatin, derived from cow hooves, is an ingredient of many drugs and is used o make capsules.

To prevent risk of infection by the mad cow disease agent, the FDA prohibits the use of bovine material from countries afflicted with mad cow disease. In addition, Dr. Carol Vincent, an FDA official, said the agency did not consider gelatin to be a problem because ``the manufacturing process would reduce or eliminate the agent, if it is present.'' Dr. Vincent said ``it is terribly unlikely that gelatin is going to be a source for'' mad cow disease.

Safeguards Urged to Keep `Mad Cow Disease' From U.S.

The Washington Post, May 01, 1996

A consumer group called yesterday for new measures to protect against the possibility of a U.S. outbreak of Britain's "mad cow disease," which some scientists believe may cause a fatal brain disease in humans.

Public Voice for Food and Health Policy called for an immediate ban on using tissue from cattle and sheep in feed for other cattle and sheep, and for additional safeguards to keep tissue from cattle spinal cords out of the human food supply. "Given the lack of understanding of the disease-causing agent, the difficulties of surveillance and the severity of the disease, the federal government should err on the side of caution," Public Voice President Mark Epstein said.

Scientists believe that the use of feed containing rendered cattle bones and other tissues may have been responsible for spreading the disease, known formally as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), in Britain. The infected cow's brain and spinal cord contain the disease-causing agent, which many researchers believe is a defective form of a protein normally found in nerves and other tissues.

Although there have been no recorded cases of BSE in the United States, fears of a possible outbreak have increased since British scientists said mad cow disease might give humans Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a fatal degenerative brain disorder.

The Food and Drug Administration has said it will issue regulations within 18 months banning the practice of using tissue left over from slaughter in animal feed, and the beef industry has called for a voluntary ban. In a letter to FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler, Epstein said the FDA should immediately issue a binding interim ban, pending publication of the final regulations. Epstein also urged appointment of an independent public health panel to oversee the BSE prevention effort and called for a review of the rendering process to ensure that methods most likely to neutralize the disease-causing agent are used.

The U.S. government should ensure that countries that export beef to the United States, such as Mexico and Canada, have reliable surveillance, Epstein added.


CATTLE RANCHERS HAVE BIG BEEF WITH LOW PRICES

Phoenix Gazette (PG) - Friday, May 17, 1996
By: New York Times

SIMLA, Colo. - As the barbecue season unfolds across America, the low-priced steaks sizzling on backyard grills are the despair of producers at the opposite end of the food chain, the nation's ranchers.

"We cut costs down to the point where isn't anything left to cut," said Glenn Benjamin, whose broad-brimmed cowboy hat failed to conceal a furrowed brow. While his younger brother, Lee, weighed yearling heifers and steers before hauling them to summer grazing land, the rancher listed the cost-cutting measures taken at his family's 7,700-acre ranch in Simla: no summer hired help, no tagging of calves and no conditioning shots for calves prior to shipping to feedlots this fall.

With prices paid to ranchers at a 10-year low, "prices are lower than costs of production for 95 percent of cow-calf producers," estimates Chuck Lambert, economist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a Denver-based group that represents 250,000 cattle ranchers.

Nationwide, beef sales are the largest revenue source for agriculture. Here, in the wide open spaces of America's cattle country, rock-bottom beef prices are rippling through local economies: ranchers are postponing bank payments and purchases of tractors, pickup trucks and fencing lumber.

"Bankers are starting to sweat," said Jim Taylor, a ranch real-estate In Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, drought has compounded the effect of low prices. There, farmers are selling off their herds, keeping prices low through the summer and eroding the tax base of ranching counties.

"In some rural counties, livestock taxes account for half of the taxes," said Al Schneberger, of Albuquerque, executive director of the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association, a private group. "Herd liquidations hurt schools, roads, libraries, ambulance services."

"I've been talking to people who remember the 1930s - the government coming out paying $8 a head, digging a hole, and shooting the cow. I wonder if we are not so far away from that now."

Historically, beef prices have followed 10-year cycles of price dips andrises. Overproduction, the past culprit for collapsing prices, is at work today. Beef production through the third week in April was 24 percent higher than during the same period in 1993, a recent peak price year, according to the beef association.

At the same time, Americans are grilling far fewer steaks than 20 years ago. In 1976 annual per capita beef consumption peaked at 94.5 pounds. In the 1990s, it has stagnated at around 66 pounds. It is unclear whether Britain's mad-cow disease will have any effect on the consumption of American beef.

Ranchers like to blame today's plunging beef prices on floods of cattle from Mexico and Canada, on price gouging by supermarkets and onmonopolistic prices of meatpacking companies. But last year, imports accounted for just 2.2 percent of the 104 million cattle in the nation's herds. During the first quarter of this year, imports were 19 percent below the same period of 1993.

Ranchers complain that while they face foreclosures, IBP Inc., the world's largest meatpacker, has nearly tripled its profits since 1993, reaching $256 million in 1995. Next month, a committee appointed by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman is to report on the meatpacking industry, where IBP and three other companies hold 82 percent of the market.

But defenders of the meatpackers - and they are few in barbed-wire country - note that the big four slaughterhouse companies enjoyed the same market share in 1993, when prices were at a peak. A large part of the profits, those defenders add, stem from record beef-production levels,which keep processing plants operating near capacity.

As for grocery stores, retail prices have gradually bumped downward and are expected to stay low during the summer, the nation's peak beef-eating season. In tribute to the barbecue culture, beef sales during Memorial Day weekend are 25 percent higher than daily averages during the rest of the year. But low cattle prices are not the only cloud over the Benjamin ranch, an 80-year-old homestead in bare, mustard-colored plains 60 miles southeast of Denver.

"Feedcake went up 50 percent in six months, from $150 a ton in October to $220 a ton now," Ileta Benjamin said, as her two sons herded the balky yearlings into a weighing stall. The nation's cattle business is the largest single user of grain, largely corn in the shape of cakes or pellets for winter feed. But last year's drought created a corn shortage, pushing corn prices up to a 20-year high this spring. This year's corn crop is expected to bounce back to normal, swelling by 27 percent over last year's level, to 9.4 billion bushels, according to the Agriculture Department.

To ease the squeeze in an election year, President Clinton announced measures on April 30 to allow ranchers this summer to graze cattle and to cut hay on land previously set aside under a federal soil conservation program. With more grass available, ranchers would be able to reduce corn purchases.

As money from the ranch has dwindled, Lee Benjamin now earns most of his income from a job appraising farmland, and a part-time job his wife hasstarted in Denver. "The only way for a person to get into ranching today is to inherit it or marry it," he said glumly from the dusty cab of a battered pickup. In a business affected by dozens of variables, economists see two bright spots that may speed ranching's recovery from its cyclical trough.

This year's corn crop is expected to be strong. And beef exports are expected to grow. Once dismissed as negligible, U.S. beef exports increased sevenfold in value in 15 years. In 1995, they added up to $3.3 billion, about 11 percent of the wholesale value of domestic-beef production.

Although sales to Mexico fell by half last year, strong sales to Russia and South Korea helped U.S. beef exports post an overall increase of 18percent. Ileta Benjamin is hedging her bets about ranching's recovery.

Five years ago, four men worked full-time running this ranch, which averages about 400 head of mixed-breed cattle. Today, the same operation is run by Ileta Benjamin and the ranch manager, Bob Blake. Her sons give occasional help. "Two years ago, I told the hired men that they were taking the gravy off my income," she recalled. "Today, I'm doing what the hired men used to do - branding, fencing, opening the gates." <

MANY UNKNOWNS SURROUND DREADED 'MAD COW DISEASE'
UNLIKELY TO SPREAD TO U.S., EXPERTS BELIEVE

Arizona Republic (AR) - Sunday, March 31, 1996

WASHINGTON - If there's a word that sums up "mad cow disease" and the similar illness that eats people's brains, it could be "mystery."

There's no test for the diseases and no treatment. Nobody even knows what causes them or whether 10 people in Britain truly were sickened by eating infected beef. All those unknowns mean that even though experts believe there's very little chance that mad-cow disease can spread to this country or hurt people, they can't rule out the possibility.

"It's a hard thing to explain to people," said Linda Detwiler, an Agriculture Department veterinarian. Mad-cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, was discovered in 1985, when British cows started staggering around and dying. Necropsies showed their brains were full of sponge-like holes. By the next year, Britain had an epidemic. Other European nations have sick cows, too.

No cow in the United States ever has been found with BSE, despite rigorous checking for symptoms and thousands of necropsies. It wasn't until 1990 that scientists noticed how similar BSE was to thehuman Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It also eats holes in brains, of about one in a million people, or 250 Americans, every year. Invariably fatal, it kills about seven months after symptoms appear.

Many species, from mink to sheep, suffer similar illnesses. In sheep, the disease is called scrapie. The only link between species ever discovered is in animal feed made from ground-up sheep. This feed is blamed for Britain's BSE epidemic in cows, and even for several dozen deaths of house cats.

Only the brains and spines of animals have been proven infectious; muscles, milk and other body parts are thought safe. The only way scientists have ever found the human version spread is from medical procedures, when someone received infected corneal transplants or injections of hormones from corpses, a practice stopped in the 1980s. Theyare fiercely debating the condition's cause, a bacterium or a strange protein called a prion.

So the world was stunned when Britain said there might be a link between 10 Creutzfeldt-Jakob patients and infected cows. The British cases were unusual because, while Creutzfeldt-Jakob usually strikes older people, these 10 were all younger than 42, with some in their 20s. The United States hasn't had a Creutzfeldt-Jakob patient under 42 since 1978.

U.S. scientists aren't convinced there is a link. "We don't know that for an absolute fact," said Food and Drug Administration microbiologist Carol Vincent. Did the victims eat infected beef? That hasn't been said. And to infect a steak, the butcher would have to accidentally slice open the cow's spine along the way. But Britain did allow cow brains and other organs to beground up in food products before 1989, the British government said.

In the United States, a few drugs are made from cow organs, but the FDA certifies that they do not come from infected cows or BSE countries.

What about using sheep to make animal feed? Britain has banned the practice, but sheep still make up about 0.2 percent of the animals "rendered" into U.S. feed, said Don Franco of the National Renderers Association. Within two weeks, the FDA will decide whether to ban the practice here, although livestock groups said Friday they would halt the practice voluntarily.

But no more than 50 cases of scrapie a year are found in the nation's 8.9 million sheep, making it unlikely that U.S. animal feed could betainted, Detwiler said. The British Creutzfeldt-Jakob cases actually resembled a related illness called kuru, or "laughing death," more than standard Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Dr. Paul Brown of the National Institutes of Health has said. Until now, kuru has appeared only in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

AGENCY SAYS BEEF IS SAFE, BUT CAFETERIA IS BUYING ARGENTINE

Arizona Republic (AR) - Saturday, March 30, 1996 LONDON - The Department of Health says British beef is safe, but its staff will be eating Argentine meat during lunch breaks. The department said Friday that it wasn't responsible for the decision. It said Compass Group UK, the private contractor that runs the department's cafeteria, acted out of fear over "mad-cow disease." "The Department of Health is entirely happy that British beef productsare safe to eat," said a spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. "Whether staff want to eat it is up to them, and it's a commercial decision for Compass if they want to take British beef off the menu."