NASHUA - The discovery of mad cow disease in a Washington dairy cow hasn’t carved into local appetites for beef, meat sellers said.
Some Telegraph readers responding to an e-mail query were worried by the emergence of the disease, and said they may stop buying beef, however, while others expressed confidence in their burgers and steaks.
Local meat markets haven’t suffered. Jeanotte’s Market owner Glynn Bingham said few of his customers have expressed any concerns since the news broke Monday.
“I think it’s still a little too early to tell. I had 700 pounds of prime rib sold for Christmas. They were all going to be picked up on Wednesday,” Bingham said. “I don’t think I had more than two people mention it when they came to pick up their roast beef.
“I’m not too concerned about it. I’m filling my meat case now and buying the way I normally would until I see some reaction to it,” Bingham said.
Bingham and Chris Barrett, manager of the Meat Shoppe in Milford, said customers look to them for advice about meat, and both said they could assure buyers their beef is safe.
Though the exact cause of mad cow disease (formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy) isn’t known, the disease affects and is contained within the animal’s central nervous system. Meat from even an infected cow won’t carry the disease unless bits of brain or spinal cord have mixed in, as can happen in commercially produced ground beef or sausage. The disease is incurable and fatal, to cows and humans alike.
“I grind my own hamburger here, so I know what I’m using,” Bingham said. “That’s part of my job is to educate them (customers) about it, so they feel comfortable that what they’re getting here isn’t going to be an issue for them.”
Barrett agreed, saying many of his shop’s customers are drawn there out of confidence in the quality of their product.
“They’re coming in, they’re buying their hamburger, their roasts and whatnot,” he said.
Meatpacking plants already operate under federal guidelines and inspections designed to prevent mad cow and other diseases, so they can’t do anything different in response, said Paul Lemay, co-owner of Lemay and Sons Beef meat packing company in Goffstown.
The disease will hurt exporters, however, Lemay noted, as many countries have banned U.S. beef - just as the United States banned British and, more recently, Canadian beef.
“Our business is all local, I don’t see where it’s going to affect us in anyway,” Lemay said.
People’s meat-eating decisions rest largely on their confidence - or lack thereof - in the meatpacking industry and government oversight.
“When we went food shopping this morning and picked up some hamburger, I did have a brief thought of the possibility of it being tainted,” Terrence Toland of Hudson wrote Thursday in response to the e-mail query.
“It appears that the feds identified the problem quickly, and are doing what they can to limit and eradicate the problem,” he wrote. “I would think that those raising the beef would be doing everything in their power to make sure it didn’t happen.”
Pat Kraft of Derry said she’s disturbed by the lack of ready documentation on the infected cow, to track where it came from so that other cows can be tested. Kraft doesn’t eat much beef anyway, but she plans to eat even less now.
“I do enjoy a small steak now and then, but until the beef industry overhauls their meat handling methods, I don’t think I will be eating steak, or hamburgers,” she wrote.
“There is no guarantee that our beef is safe here (in New Hampshire). Anyone who says it is, is a fool,” Kraft said.
“They thought their beef was safe in the state of Washington, remember?”
Several people pointed out that there are many riskier things in life, such as driving a car.
“I find the reaction to recent reports of mad cow disease to be overblown. One dead cow doesn’t make an epidemic,” Harvey Bloom of Merrimack wrote.
“MTBE, lead and various other pollutants are already in our food supply, and are a much greater health risk than BSE,” Paul Sergeant of Nashua wrote, adding, “I think I’ll go get a burger and see if the price is down yet.”
Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410 or email@example.com
This article appears in the Archive 2003 issue of New Hampshire Business Review