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Need for food safety practices never more clear

DENVER– Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) is urging producers, government and consumers to work together to make changes that will provide added food safety and economic protections to the U.S. food supply and those who produce it. The recommendation is being made in the wake of the Dec. 24 announcement that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, had been detected in a cow in Washington.

“In just a few days we have seen cattle prices drop by 20 percent or more,” said RMFU President John Stencel. “This dive in producer prices follows two to four years of drought for many cattle producers in the Rocky Mountain region. Many of these producers cannot survive this devastating economic assault.”

RMFU is urging a number of measures to address the immediate crisis, as well as to make food safer for the long term.

RMFU has joined National Farmers Union (NFU) in calling for a ban on imports of Canadian beef and live animals. It also is calling for congressional action to eliminate the practice of meat processors of meat from diseased “downer” animals from being sold for human consumption. Another commonsense measure supported by RMFU and NFU is a ban on the processing and distribution of meat from any animal that has been tested for BSE until the test results are known. “As a nation we need to re-think the priorities of our food system,” Stencel said. “Perhaps bigger is not better, and we need to go back to purchasing the majority of our food from local, family farm and ranch operations.”

RMFU is calling on Congress and President George Bush to compensate cattle producers for their losses due to this disaster, resulting in the freefall of cattle prices. RMFU also wants authorities to expedite the animal identity system that is currently underway.

“The detection of BSE is completely out of the control of U.S. producers, who are diligent in following sound production practices,” said Stencel. “In the name of free trade, authorities have become complacent in their duty to protect producers and consumers. BSE didn’t just spontaneously occur.”

Stencel is referring to the elimination of a practice started in the 1930s that permanently marked all imported animals, as well as the attempt to block the implementation of country-of-origin food labeling (COOL) as passed in the 2002 farm bill.

“As pointed out by RMFU member Kathleen Kelly, a Meeker, Colo., cattle producer, if COOL were in place, documentation on the infected cow would have been presented at the time of slaughter, eliminating the uncertainty of the animal’s origin and the precipitous drop in U.S. cattle prices,” Stencel said.