NCBA, BEEF PRODUCERS OBJECT TO PRIVATE BSE TESTS

DENVER -- The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, independent cattlemen and beef producers came down against private testing of cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Industry representatives said allowing private companies to test all animals -- and market the results -- could disrupt ongoing U.S. negotiations with Japan to lift that country's ban on American beef.Representatives of the

DENVER -- The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, independent cattlemen and beef producers came down against private testing of cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Industry representatives said allowing private companies to test all animals -- and market the results -- could disrupt ongoing U.S. negotiations with Japan to lift that country's ban on American beef.

Representatives of the NCBA and a handful of cattlemen and producers spoke out during a media teleconference last week, in response to an effort under way by Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, a beef processor, to challenge the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ban on private testing for BSE. Company officials said testing is something its export customers, including Japan, and consumers want.

However, the cattlemen and producers said letting a private company conduct tests could trigger problems, such as demands for 100% testing by other trading partners. Japan has demanded universal testing of all beef coming into the country as a condition to be met prior to resumption of U.S. trade. As it stands, the USDA plan tests only cattle older than 30 months, and officials have maintained that universal testing is not warranted because BSE has never been detected in younger cattle.

"Testing of all cattle would be like testing children in grammar school for Alzheimer's disease," said Dave Wood, chairman of the beef division, Harris Ranch Beef Co. "It is absolutely unnecessary to ensure the safety of our beef product."

Furthermore, the expense would be borne by the beef industry, with no improvement in safety, he said.

In response to the comments, John Stewart, chief executive officer of Arkansas City, Kan.-based Creekstone, said he stands behind the company's proposal.

"What everyone is overlooking is fundamental marketing," Stewart said. "When you have customers asking for products a certain way, our model is built around satisfying customer needs. We'll continue to do that. Japan wants testing; we'll continue to strive for that."