Happy to be in the beef business


January 5, 2004


By Trent Loos, farmer and radio talk show host


To submit a Letter to the Editor: letters@illinoisleader.com


What a difference a day can make. December 23, 2003, will not soon be forgotten in the world of food production. So many things have happened in the first week since the discovery of a BSE positive cow in Washington that any "news" more than one hour old can be considered dated.

Earlier today, I overheard people talking about what they had heard on the news about "Mad Cow" (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy). One young man learned from CNN that one-third of all beef produced in the United States was exported to Japan. The fact is one-third of our beef exports go to Japan but only ten percent of the beef we produce is exported.

In the first week, the reporting has been mostly fair and factual. As with any facts, by the time they are repeated numerous times a little distortion sets in. Despite the balanced reports, we have still planted seeds of fear about contracting this disease from beef.

As I walked into a gas station for a cup of coffee, I overheard one gentleman say, The good news is that I am not in the beef business."

So if you live Cook County, where you have to look hard to find any forages, are you thinking "this really doesnt affect me?"

Lets take a look at what livestock agriculture means to Illinois. The meat and dairy complex is an $18.1 billion dollar industry comprising 4.81% of Illinois total economy. As of 2002, 681 businesses beyond the farm are in the meat and dairy processing sector, 59% of which are in Chicago. In addition, livestock in the state consumes 11% of the corn and 8% of the soybeans produced and combined with forages consume $689 million worth of feedstuffs. That puts people "in the beef business" whether they know it or not.

Scott C. Ratzan, editor of the Journal of Health Communications, indicates your odds of contracting variant CJD are about 1 in 200 billion. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that your odds of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases are 1 in 4. I don't recall many news stories about the current social pressures that could lead you to a promiscuous lifestyle, but I realize that the same people who produce movies for entertainment also bring us the "news."

The low risk of contracting vCJD from beef should be our emphasis. The CDC reports that, as of now, only 153 people have ever died from the vCJD. While there has been no scientific proof that consuming beef from an animal positive to BSE actually causes vCJD, the prion or agent is exactly the same, consequently they assume it is the cause.

Furthermore, unless you are consuming brain or spinal tissue, you are not at risk. Thousands of cattle were confirmed positive for BSE in the EU, yet only 153 people actually contracted the disease.

The main stream media has also failed to mention that BSE only infects cattle 30 months of age or older. The vast majority of skeletal muscle beef consumed would be from fed cattle under 30 months of age, again eliminating the risk of contracting the disease.

It seems to be easy for American consumers to have fear of the unknown which sprouts from the seeds planted by the media and special interest groups. More people die in the United States from automobile/deer collisions (150) every year than have died from vCJD in all of history. The odds of dying in an automobile crash are actually 1 in 242, yet people will drive to work and talk about this dreaded prion disease.

So what is different today about being in the beef industry than before December 23? In reality, nothing has changed except perceptions. We have safeguards in place to protect the safety of the domestic food production. We have just had the USDA take extreme measures in protecting the nation's food supply by banning downer animals from the food chain.

I personally can say, "Yes, I am still proud to be a part of an industry that not only enhances a vibrant economy but provides two of the essentials of life, food and clothing."


Copyright 2004, IllinoisLeader.com




Trent Loos is a 6th generation United States farmer, host of daily radio show Loos Tales and founder of Faces of Agriculture, non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at http://www.FacesofAg.com http://www.LoosTales.com or email Trent at trent@loostales.com