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January 15, 2004   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
January 15, 2004

MONTGOMERY, Ala.-- Continued high demand for beef kept Alabama food prices strong in January, despite the diagnosis last month of a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a Washington state dairy cow. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, the average cost of 20 basic market basket items was $42.79, up 92 cents or 2.2 percent from last month and up $3.58 from a year ago.

At Alabama supermarkets, beef prices climbed 7.5 percent in January after falling 5.5 percent last month. Although the prices farmers receive for their cattle dropped sharply after the BSE diagnosis was announced, Federation Beef Director Perry Mobley said retail prices have remained high.

"I expect cattle sale numbers will slowly begin to inch back up as American consumers continue to show their confidence in our food supply," Mobley said. "The system we have in place to inspect meat works, and consumers are more sure of that than ever."

Following the BSE diagnosis, about 30 countries stopped importing U.S. beef products. As a result, some retailers were able to buy large quantities of beef destined for Japan or other countries and offer it to shoppers at discounted prices. Exports, however, only account for about 10 percent of U.S. beef sales, so as long as U.S. demand remains high, experts do not expect steep declines in retail prices.

This month, T-bone steaks averaged $8.13 a pound at Alabama grocery stores, up 72 cents. Ground beef was 8 cents higher at $2.02 a pound, and chuck roasts were up 13 cents to $3.19 a pound. Pork prices also were up in January with pork chops averaging $3.26, up 28 cents. Boston butts were 7 cents higher at $1.44 a pound, while bacon was down 11 cents to $2.95 a pound. Poultry prices were mixed, with whole fryers averaging 95 cents a pound, up 6 cents, while chicken breasts were down 28 cents to $1.76 a pound. Egg prices were slightly lower at $1.35 a dozen, down 3 cents.

On the produce aisle, higher prices for tomatoes and sweet potatoes offset savings on red potatoes and lettuce. Tomatoes averaged $1.67 a pound, up 22 cents, while sweet potatoes were a dime higher at 80 cents a pound. Lettuce was 17 cents cheaper at $1.26 a head, and the price of red potatoes fell 2 cents to 63 cents a pound.

A bright spot for Alabama shoppers this month was the dairy case where a half-gallon of ice cream averaged $2.82, down 39 cents. Milk prices were unchanged at $1.90 a half-gallon, and butter was slightly more expensive at $2.25 a pound, up 4 cents.

Regional reports collected by volunteer shoppers Jan. 1-8 showed the market basket averaged $40.61 in northwest Alabama, $41.73 in the central counties, $43.47 in the northeast corner of the state and $45.29 in south Alabama.

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