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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Parker Ranch watches mad-cow case

 •  U.S. bans imports of beef from Canada

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — A ban on exports of beef from Canada to the United States because of a case of mad cow disease in Canada could cause trouble for Parker Ranch, which ships millions of dollars worth of cattle through Canada each year.

Mad cow disease

• Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

• One of a family of brain-destroying diseases that afflict many species, including sheep, deer and elk, mink and humans.

• Emerged in cattle in the mid-1980s.

• First appeared in humans in 1996 in Britain; suspected was consumption of BSE-infected beef.

• Called "new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" or vCJD, in humans.

• Early symptoms include anxiety and depression, then dementia.

• Patients may linger as long as two years.

The ranch has about 2,700 calves in Canada, and has paid for passage for another 2,500 that will be shipped to British Columbia next week, said Michael Bryan, vice president for livestock operations.

"We're waiting to see when the smoke clears and see what the U.S. (Department of Agriculture) does," Bryan said. "Hopefully it will remain a science-based decision rather than a politically based one."

Parker Ranch normally moves weaned calves to Canada on foreign-flagged ships because those vessels can move more cattle more quickly, giving the animals more time to gain weight on the Mainland before they are sold.

Under the federal Jones Act, foreign ships traveling from Hawai'i must dock in a foreign port. After arriving in Canada, about 85 percent of the calves are moved into the United States within weeks, where they are fattened for a year and sold, Bryan said.

The calves in Canada or soon to be shipped there are worth more than $1.6 million at their current weight, and they will fatten significantly before they are marketed, Bryan said.

Parker Ranch normally moves almost all of its calves through Canada in shipments in the spring and fall that amount to about 11,000 to 12,000 head each year, he said.

Bryan said the ranch hopes to move most of its cattle in Canada into the United States on Friday, provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture approves.

The United States banned all cattle imports from Canada after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in northern Alberta yesterday. Canadian authorities said testing of the animal in England confirmed it had bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

The case was the first in North America in a decade. The cow was not consumed by humans or animals, the only known way the disease is spread, but the incident raised concerns because authorities had believed the feeding practices now in place would prevent the spread of the disease in North America.

No case of mad cow disease has ever been found in U.S. cattle.

Parker Ranch has the cattle inspected and tagged as certified by the USDA before they leave Hawai'i, and the animals are quarantined so they have no contact with Canadian cattle, he said.

If the ban isn't lifted, Bryan said the ranch will leave the cattle in Canada and market them there. He said there is no other way to get the cattle into the United States because the other means of transportation are booked up through the summer.

If that happens, that would leave the ranch with commitments to use grazing lands this summer in Washington, Texas and New Mexico, presenting additional problems because the ranch wouldn't need those lands, he said.

Reach Kevin Dayton at (808) 935-3916 or kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.