Indonesia Bans U.S. Beef Over Mad Cow Disease

Indonesia Closes Ports To American Beef

When authorities discovered a case of mad cow disease in Hanford, California last year, Indonesia became the first nation to ban beef from the United States. The fallout was immediate, and U.S. beef sales to Indonesia plummeted to nearly nothing.

mad cow disease and Indonesia

Much to the satisfaction of cattle producers in states such as California and Texas, the U.S. government has decided to fight back: In the latest case to go before the World Trade Organization, the Obama administration is pressing Indonesia to open its markets and its estimated 240 million consumers to more American exports or face consequences.

“There’s no scientific basis for turning away U.S. beef,” said John Harris, owner of Harris Ranch Beef Co., the family-run operation in Fresno County since the 1930s.

Kevin Kester, a fifth-generation rancher from Parkfield in the Coast Range foothills beyond Coalinga, called Indonesia’s action a “knee-jerk political action.”

And with U.S. beef exports accounting for nearly 13% of the industry’s market last year, cattle producers say they rely on selling meat to foreigners to make a living. Industry officials say that foreign markets have become particularly important for meat cuts that won’t sell here. The Japanese, for example, have shown an affinity for cow tongue, helping drive up the value of U.S. beef sold to Japan by 19% in 2012.

Last month, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the United States had reached a new agreement with Japan to remove some of the restrictions on selling beef, a move that he said would result in hundreds of millions of dollars of additional sales in coming years.

“We’re not subsidized by the federal government at all — so we live and die by the marketplace,” said Kent Bacus, associate director of legislative affairs in Washington for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a trade group that represents 230,000 breeders, producers and feeders.

The stakes are high for the U.S. economy, with the beef industry supporting 1.4 million jobs, according to industry statistics. And in 2011, the 742,000 beef herds roaming the nation’s pastures resulted in $44 billion of economic activity in the United States, the beef association said.

The Indonesian Embassy in Washington would not discuss the case but said in a statement that Indonesia “takes note” of the U.S. action and will respond in a timely manner.

“The government of Indonesia’s aim is not to restrict imports, but to ensure that all imported goods are safe for consumption by consumers and safe for the environment,” said the statement, released by Ni Made Ayu Marthini, a commercial attache.

The push to gain more access to Indonesia comes amid hard times for the U.S. cattle industry, the world’s largest supplier of beef.

John Keating, president of Cargill Beef, recently noted that the size of the U.S. cattle herd is now at its lowest point since 1952.

It’s a familiar story for Kester, 57, who owns a ranch in Monterey County, with more than 20,000 acres between the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast. He has spent all his life in the cattle industry and has watched it shrink, with the average age of a rancher now approaching 60.

“It’s harder and harder for ranchers and farmers to be in business because of high regulatory costs and high land prices across the nation, especially places like here in California,” said Kester, former president of the California Cattlemen’s Association. “As time marches on, we just have less and less people in the business and less production.”

Industry officials say the ban in Indonesia now has been replaced with tight quotas and requirements that force U.S. exporters to apply for licenses, making it nearly impossible for cattle producers to sell their products.

Mad Cow disease is a form of prion disease. Prion disease in humans is called Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease. Even Alzheimer’s disease is now considered a form of prion diseases. Prion diseases of all forms are always fatal. Prions themselves are known to migrate, mutate and multiply. As a rogue form of protein, prions cannot be killed, stopped or neutralized. Infected animals and humans contaminate their environment and risk infecting others via blood, saliva, urine and feces.

By Rob Hotakainen – Bee Washington Bureau. Read more here: 

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Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and the prion disease epidemic is an area of special expertise. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform