The late-Friday news that further testing was being done on tissues from an animal that had garnered an "inconclusive" rapid test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) will hit the markets this morning. While the beef industry has weathered the first find of a BSE-infected animal, will consumers turn away from beef if a second animal is found infected with the disease?
This is the speculation that will greet the market this morning as traders return to the floor. The Friday announcement came after the market closed and this morning's open could start limit down. The key will be in local cash markets, where the real price of beef gets set. If the buyers take a wait-and-see attitude limit down will be $0 price per hundredweight while buyers await news from lab test on that suspect animal.
Industry spokepeople note that firewall actions taken by USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will protect the food supply, however, there is a concern about how consumers will react when they hear there could be a second case of the disease. USDA reports that the suspect animal's carcass is being held from the food chain until final test results are available.
With the higher testing level, officials say it's likely that another animal could turn up positive for BSE. Groups that say USDA isn't being tough enough on the BSE scare are sure that more cattle will turn up and their numbers will be higher than beef industry groups predict. However, since U.S. consumers don't eat specified risk materials - including brains, spinal cord and nerve tissue, the risk from BSE exposure is very low.
Test results on the suspect animal could be ready as soon as Tuesday, we'll keep you posted.