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March 04, 2004   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
March 04, 2004

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Mexico has lifted its ban on imports of American beef, according to a statement released by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. The second largest buyer of American beef, Mexico shut its borders after the discovery of the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in late December.

"I am very pleased that today Secretary Javier Usabiaga of Mexico is announcing that he is reopening the border to U.S. beef products," Venneman said. "We have worked closely with the Mexican officials to inform them of all the actions USDA has taken to further strengthen our food safety and animal health systems since the discovery of a BSE positive animal. We have provided to Mexican officials extensive information as requested, and have hosted their technical teams to illustrate that our beef is indeed safe."

Alabama Farmers Federation Beef Division Director Perry Mobley said lifting the ban is good news for producers, and he's hopeful that other countries will soon follow Mexico's lead. Beef exports account for 10 percent of the U.S. beef market, with approximately $2.6 billion in sales annually.

"As markets reopen, I predict that you will see a favorable reaction to this news in the futures (cattle) market," Mobley said. "While we have seen a drop in prices for live cattle and heavy feeder calves since the BSE case was discovered, that decline was caused by an increase in domestic supply when export markets closed. However, light feeder cattle have remained strong throughout this time."

Prior to the BSE case in the United States, cattle prices were as high as they've ever been.

Mobley said American consumption of beef has remained strong throughout the crisis as have beef prices at the meat counter. That's a good indication that consumers have confidence in the safety precautions that are in place, he said.

"Mexico is the first major country to lift the ban, and it's a major step in regaining our export markets," Mobley said. "Japan, the number one export market, remains closed due largely to its demands that every animal be tested for BSE. However, we are hopeful that the South Korean market, the number three market for U.S. beef, and the Japanese market will reopen by mid year."

Mobley said he believes the BSE case will increase acceptance of a new identification program for cattle proposed by USDA that will use an electronic ear tag to track the animal from birth.

Information from the electronic tags would provide producers with information to improve quality and productivity of their operations. USDA officials also can use the ID system for disease surveillance and tracking. The electronic ID system is expected to be used by some Alabama stockyards as early as next year.

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