The price of cattle dropped nationwide when the Mad Cow Disease scare was announced to the public Dec. 23, 2003, but have since rebounded. Not quite to the high level they were before the scare, but they have increased to a more acceptable price.
Before the announcement that one cow in Washington state had been diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), fat cattle prices - the prices which "drive the market" according to local rancher Pat Wortman - were at an all time high.
From his home place seven miles north of Enterprise Jim Dunham said the price before the discovery was at 92 cents per pound for fat cattle.
Within the first four days after the announcement prices dropped to 70 cents per pound and Dunham, in possession of 250 fat cattle, saw an immediate loss of $50,000. Fat cattle prices have been gradually increasing since the scare and, says Dunham, are now at 78 cents to 80 cents for steers.
County Extension agent John Williams says it is not easy to predict the overall affect of the BSE discovery. Though one can determine cattle prices before and after the scare, there is no way to know how high cattle prices would be had the BSE incident not occurred.
Wortman, who sits on the Oregon State Board of Agriculture which he previously chaired, says the cattle prices were down two to three weeks before they began to come back up.
Dunham says that the export market has disappeared since Dec. 23 and does not expect it to come back in the immediate future. Prime cuts exported to such countries as Japan and Korea have stopped and may not come back for years. He notes that the U.S. consumes more beef than it raises, hence the impact on the export market is not as great.
"It has not been near the disaster we thought it would be when Mad Cow hit," said Williams.
According to information shared from Williams' office more than 95 percent of all BSE cases in the world have been evidenced in the United Kingdom, with the highlight of the epidemic in January of 1993.
The disease affecting humans is usually associated with the consumption of nervous system parts of an infected cow. There is no known cure for what is called variant Crentzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). As of Dec. 1, 2003, according to Williams' data, there were 153 known cases of vCJD worldwide, 143 of them out of the United Kingdom. The United States had only one case in Florida and it was thought to have been contacted in the UK.