Packing Plant Layoffs Result of BSE Case

Nearly 240 lose jobs at two processing facilities. Don McCabe

Published on: Jan 13, 2004

Impact of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) case in Nebraska has hit more than Nebraska beef producers.

In recent days, two Nebraska beef processors have sent nearly 240 workers home without jobs. Excel in Schuyler announced Monday that 187 meat packing plant workers have been laid off. Earlier, Fremont Beef laid off about 50 workers.

Gov. Mike Johanns, in a press conference Monday, says he directed Nebraska Workforce Development at the Nebraska Department of Labor to send its Rapid Response Team to Schuyler to meet with fired employees.

"My heart goes out to all of those individuals affected by these layoffs," Johanns says. "We’ll do everything we can to help them through the transition of finding new employment."

The team provides information to laid-off workers about unemployment insurance benefits, job openings in the area, job-ready skill development, career assessment and counseling, and support in meeting financial and family obligations.

Johanns also says he sent a letter to President Bush and USDA Secretary Ann Veneman alerting them about the layoffs and asking them to do everything they can to reopen borders for Nebraska beef. Oversees markets have been tightened as a result of the BSE case.

Johanns says he remains cautiously optimistic about beef export markets.

"The importance of opening foreign borders to our beef products as soon as possible cannot be overstated," he says. "Nebraska’s’ beef industry is a crucial part of our state’s economy, and the effects of the economic losses will likely spill over into main street businesses across Nebraska if the export bans are not lifted soon."

At the press conference, Greg Ruehle, Nebraska Cattlemen executive vice president, explains the export ban means another 45 millions pounds of beef a week dumped on the domestic market. "That’s where the impact is coming," he says. He credited domestic consumers, however, with maintaining beef demand.

Nebraska will feel the impact as much or more than other states since it leads the United States in red meat production and in slaughter.