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Canadian Press Cites OCA on Mad Cow Crisis

The Canadian Press (CP)

June 2, 2003 Monday

Mad cow crisis could be boon for family farm as market for grass-fed
beef grows
BY DENNIS BUECKERT

OTTAWA (CP) _ At least one farm business stands to profit from the scare
over mad-cow disease: grass-fed beef.

Colleen Biggs, who offers grass-fed beef from a ranch near Hanna, Alta.,
said she's been getting a lot of calls since bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered in an Alberta cow last month.

Even before the scare, business at TK Ranch Natural Foods was increasing
by 25 to 30 per cent annually, Biggs said.

It's a niche market, but it's growing _ especially in Alberta, home to
Canada's biggest cattle industry.

Biggs attributes the rising sales to concern about practices in
industrial beef production, particularly the use of meat byproducts in
cattle feed.

"We've certainly had a lot of interest,'' said Biggs. "I think more and
more people are becoming aware of what is going on in the industry.''

Biggs says many consumers are willing to pay a premium for grass-fed
beef, largely due to concern about animal byproducts in feed. Her
products are priced 25 to 30 per cent higher than those generally found
on supermarket shelves.

She said the mainstream industry uses animal byproducts because they're
cheap and profit margins in the industry are so narrow.

The BSE outbreak in Britain was traced to the practice of feeding cattle
byproducts back to cattle, which was then banned there and elsewhere.

But Canada and the United States, unlike Britain, still allow the use of
cattle byproducts in feed for non-ruminant animals such as pigs and
horses.

British scientists say they tried that approach, but kept getting new
BSE cases because feed intended for pigs and horses wound up being eaten
by cattle.

The British found that cross-contamination can occur between different
production lines in feed mills, or as a result of carelessness on the
part of farmers.

Ronnie Cummins, director the U.S. Organic Consumers Association, says
consumers are increasingly skeptical of practices in the beef industry.

"No case of mad cow has ever been found in a cow raised on an organic
farm,'' Cummins said.

"The major reason for that is that you can't feed slaughterhouse waste
to an animal and call it organic.''

He said it is hypocritical for the United States to ban Canadian beef
after a single case of mad cow disease, when it tests only a tiny
fraction of its own cattle for the disease.

Cummins maintains there must be cases of BSE in the United States but
they haven't been detected and there is no interest in detecting them.

He predicted the NAFTA countries "will continue to go merrily along with
an only partial feed ban that's not enforced ... and no one wanting to
look at this scary underside of industrial agriculture.''

Biggs said organic products are good news for the family farm, because
the profit margins are higher than in the industrial meat industry.

And Cummins sees old-fashioned grazing as the way of the future.

"From our standpoint it's very simple: the traditional way that meat was
raised, which is nowadays called organic, is safe, its humane, it's good for family farms.''

"We can't have cheap industrial meat unless we want to have things like
mad cow.''

 

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