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Monday, January 3,2005

BSE improved U.S. pork market in 2004

by WLJ
— Export, domestic demand both helped. While the Dec. 23, 2003 confirmation of BSE being found in a cow located in Washington-state turned the U.S. cattle industry on its ear, the U.S. pork industry found the ramification from that situation much more to its liking. According to Chris Hurt, livestock economist at the University of Purdue, that single case of BSE was almost singlehandedly responsible for one of the biggest pork market turnarounds in U.S. history. Hurt remembers that the U.S. hog market started out 2004 with cash prices mostly in the $30 range. By April, prices had risen significantly as export demand kicked in. The last few weeks of the year, market hog prices have stayed above $50 per cwt, with some instances of 55 reported. Hurt said U.S. pork producers enjoyed a major boost in export sales this year because of the BSE case that closed most foreign markets to U.S. beef. Japan, the largest customer for U.S. pork, increased sales by 10 percent in 2004 according to Hurt. Mexico, however, was the big surprise increasing their purchases of U.S. pork by over 70 percent. “The Mexicans stopped buying U.S. beef and replaced it with large amounts of pork,” Hurt told Brownfield. Hurt said U.S. consumer demand also played a role. Faced with record high retail beef prices, consumers turned to pork. “Retailers also featured pork more this year as an alternative to high price beef,” he said. As a result U.S. pork prices have remained at profitable levels most of the year and Hurt predicts they will continue to remain high well into next year. He also said he expects consumer demand cooling a bit in 2005 but remaining strong enough to keep cash hog prices at profitable levels. He is predicting a buildup in hog numbers by the end of the third quarter of the new year and that may result in the first serious downturn in hog prices. He also expects trading relations between the US, Canada, and Japan to normalize in the new year which will lessen export demand for pork. A couple of other meat market analysts however, said that prospective third quarter market pressure might not be as great as once thought, particularly with USDA’s most recent hog report showing Dec. 1 sow numbers at a very similar level to last year. “We didn’t appear to expand the number of producing sows at the end of this year, and that means the number of pigs to be born this spring for marketing later in the year won’t be as large as once thought,” said David Logan, analyst with LL Ag Commodities, Indianapolis, IN. “Not having as large of a supply as expected should be more than enough to keep the (live cash) market in the $50s, at least. There could still be some residual hesitance in beef demand also, and that could keep pork demand and prices both elevated.” — WLJ

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Monday, January 3,2005

Brazil seeks to add to meat lead in ‘05

by WLJ
Brazil’s meat industry is looking to consolidate on a spectacular year of growth in 2004, cementing its position as the world’s largest meat exporter. Beef, chicken and pork exporters saw orders grow despite a recent import ban by Russia, its largest client, and continuing restrictions on Brazilian meat in the Far East. Meat shipments are expected to total $5.8 billion in 2004, some 42 percent higher than 2003, with physical sales expected to reach 4.2 million metric tons, 23 percent higher than the year before. The challenge for Brazil’s industry is to take advantage of the continuing sanitary problems in competing countries and the inability of others to respond to the opening of new markets. "It is extremely likely that Brazil will remain in the lead during 2005 as long as there are no major disasters,” said Jose Vicente Ferraz of the Sao Paulo-based FNP consultancy. The confirmation of a possible outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease (HMD) in the beef state of Mato Grosso do Sul would represent just such a disaster. State officials are denying the outbreak, saying that tests only came back positive because the cattle had been recently vaccinated. But Brazil's major export rival, Australia, has already announced a ban on beef imports in what local officials see as an attempt to increase international concern over the possible outbreak here. Meanwhile, Russians continue to ban imports of Brazilian meat, except from the state of Santa Catarina, following a HMD outbreak in the isolated Amazon region in September. Brazil should remain the world's main beef exporter next season because of limited cattle stocks in Australia and the U.S., its two main competitors, said Ferraz. In Australia, producers are just recovering from three years of drought. Meanwhile, the U.S. lost major market share after the discovery of BSE there in 2003. One negative factor, however, is the continued strength of the Brazilian real, which is biting into the country’s competitiveness. The beef industry’s main challenge will be to open new markets next year, said Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes, president of the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC). “We export to 143 countries but we don't sell to the top paying countries,” he said, referring to the U.S., Japan and South Korea, which account for around 50 percent of world exports. Exporters must work hard to convince these states to lift the sanitary barriers to its produce, he added. Brazil exported $2.2 billion in beef in the first eleven months of 2004, up 66 percent on the year before. Exports should continue to grow next year, but not at the same rate as this year, said Pratini. Avoiding losing markets due to sanitary barriers will also be key for chicken exporters next year. “The great challenge over the next year will be to hold on to what fell into our lap,” said Julio Cardoso, president of the Brazilian Chicken Exporters Association (ABEF). The Avian influenza epidemic that spread across Asia cut the capacity of China and Thailand to sell to Japan, one of Brazil's key markets. To maintain markets, Brazil must invest much more in sanitary checks and balances as well as improving ties with importing countries. Exports are expected to rise 10 percent on top of the 2.4 million tons forecast for this year. Brazil's pork exporters are slightly more conservative about the future, forecasting that international sales will hold steady in 2005. In 2004, exports are expected to total 500,000 tons, bringing in $737,000 in revenues. “But we desperately need to diversify our client base,” said Pedro Camargo Neto, president of the Brazilian Pork Exporters Association. Specifically, Brazil must reduce its dependence on Russia, which has been regularly imposing restrictions on local exports for the past few years. Despite the problems, Russia imported 263,500 tons of the 459,000 tons exported from Brazil in the first eleven months of 2004, said Camargo. The industry's targets will be Asian and eastern Europe, he added.

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Monday, January 3,2005

Canadian rule announced

by WLJ
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last Wednesday announced Canadian live cattle destined for slaughter and all classes of Canadian beef would be allowed reentry into the U.S. starting March 7, pending no more positive cases of BSE are found north of the border before that deadline. Questions surrounding Canada’s ability to meet the no more BSE infection criteria surfaced later that day after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced that preliminary testing indicated a 10-year-old cow could be infected with the disease. If confirmatory tests come back positive for the disease, it is unlikely Canadian producers will be allowed to ship live cattle into the U.S. and that at least some Canadian beef may be banned again from entering the country. USDA officials indicated a new case of the disease north of the border would definitely jeopardize the reentry of Canadian live cattle and bone-in beef, but were unclear whether or not they would reinstate the ban on beef products currently being allowed to enter the U.S. “I’m sure we will be pressured to eliminate all Canadian cattle and beef imports for a little while, but whether those requests are warranted will be looked into only if the Canadian cow is confirmed to be infected with the disease,” an aide to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Ron DeHaven said. Under the new beef import regulations, USDA has agreed to allow “minimum risk BSE regions” to export cattle to the U.S. pending they are 30 months of age or younger and that beef from cattle of any age would be allowed entry if all “specified risk materials” (SRMs) were removed. Minimum risk BSE regions, according to the International Office of Epizootics (OIE), are areas of the world where less than one confirmed case of BSE has been reported within a seven-year period. Canada has had only one in-nation confirmed case of the disease, which puts them in the “minimum risk” category. The formal announcement of the new rules isn’t scheduled to be published until the Jan. 4 issue of the Federal Register, which is when a 60-day comment period will be opened to the public and Congress, USDA officials said last Wednesday. The implementation date for the new Canadian import rules has been set for March 7. “Public comments will be taken into consideration, but the rule could be implemented even if those comments warrant some sort of a change. That change could be made mid-stream,” an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) spokesperson told WLJ. “That 60-day period basically gives Congress 60 days to file an objection to the rule, which means the rule could be kept from being implemented on the target date. That’s highly unlikely, but it could happen and we need to give some time for congressional review.” Another USDA spokesperson, Andrea McNally, said all beef, including bone-in product, from cattle born prior to USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations banning ruminant proteins from ruminant feed would be allowed entry into the U.S. In addition, she said there would be an indelible mark, such as a hot or freeze brand, that would remain with Canadian live cattle through the time they are slaughtered in the U.S. “Cattle from Canada will be clearly and permanently marked so that they don’t enter the U.S. breeding herd,” the spokeswoman said. “If Canadian females do enter the herd, U.S. producers will be in violation of U.S. law and be subject to severe penalties.” She added that Canadian feeder cattle that enter the U.S. at 30 months of age or younger can be slaughtered in the U.S. if they are older than 30 months of age, but verification of their age upon entering the U.S. must be provided at the time of slaughter. As expected, the new rules were met with mixed reactions. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and National Meat Association (NMA) called last Wednesday’s announcement a step in the right direction but said it still felt short of meeting the U.S. industry’s needs. R-CALF USA, on the other hand, was still urging USDA to contemplate recent scientific findings on BSE transmission to humans. NCBA and NMA said that USDA needs to allow all classes of Canadian live cattle to enter the U.S., but primarily cited the need for slaughter cows over 30 months of age to be delivered from Canada to packing houses in the northern half of the U.S. There have been several instances where Northwest and northern Plains cow processors have started short shifting processing chains or shutting down operations altogether because of the shortage of older cows. According to R-CALF, USDA has not taken into account recent scientific research indicating the prions responsible for causing the disease can be harbored in muscle tissue, specifically the tongue, and that the disease can permeate some of the membranes of the human intestinal tract. In addition, the group is very concerned with news that Canadian feed has been reportedly found to contain ruminant meat-and-bone meal (MBM), which the U.S. has banned from cattle feed since 1997. MBM is considered a viable vector for BSE transmission. USDA officials said R-CALF received notification Dec. 23 of the proposed rule changes and its pending placement in the Federal Register, per a ruling from a federal district court in Billings, MT. When asked if they would pursue any further legal action against USDA and the final beef import rule, R-CALF leaders said it is a definite possibility, particularly if Canada’s confirmatory testing shows the most recent suspect cow is infected with the disease and USDA continues to allow cattle and beef from Canada to cross the border. Prior to last week’s announcement from CFIA, USDA insiders weren’t aware of any concerns that might jeopardize the new rules being implemented in early March. They said the U.S. Office of Management and Budget investigated and reviewed the final rules, and that should make any legal challenges against them “less relevant.” CFIA said confirmatory test results were expected in three to five days, which means the results could be known on New Year’s or sometime over that weekend. CFIA said U.S. authorities were notified of preliminary test results and said it went against its normal policy of reporting only confirmatory testing results. “Given the unique situation created by the (U.S.) border announcement .... it was decided that the most prudent action would be to publicly announce the available information and provide stakeholders with a full understanding of the current situation,” CFIA said in statement.

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Monday, January 3,2005

Far from over

by WLJ
The Canadian cattle import rule was announced last week by USDA and the intention is to resume full beef and cattle trade with Canada starting March 7. The announcement comes one year after the U.S. found its Canadian case of BSE and nearly 19 months after Canada announced its first case of the disease. Last Wednesday’s announcement will, without doubt, cause an immediate reaction from R-CALF USA who is expected to file an injunction to the rule stating that a previous risk assessment of Canada’s BSE measures is not valid and that the Canadian feed ban has not been adequately implemented. The futures markets took immediate action, as well, and live cattle fell nearly $2, and feeder cattle closed down nearly the $3 daily limit. The announcement was officially released after the markets closed, so it appears that USDA may have a leak. USDA produced a 500-page report on the issue and left no stone unturned. It is expected USDA will have a fight on their hands very soon, and it looks as if they may have taken some extra time to tighten up the proposed rule so that R-CALF will have a more difficult time suing. There was special attention regarding R-CALF’s concerns as to the credibility of the Harvard Risk Assessment. Obviously USDA concluded that the study is valid and justifiable. It’s not a complicated rule, and USDA spent the most effort justifying the rule and minimal risk criteria and providing an economic analysis. USDA claims Canada has met the requirements for a minimal risk country outlined by the World Animal Health organization (OIE), which include, bovine import restrictions from countries with BSE, surveillance programs to detect BSE, a ruminant feed ban, and appropriate epidemiologic investigations, risk assessments and other elements. A quick check of the OIE guidelines indicates that Canada has indeed met the requirements. We expected that Canadian feeder cattle under 30 months of age would be permitted into the U.S. to go to specific feedlots. There will be no grass cattle allowed. Feeder cattle must be permanently marked with a Canadian brand and tagged with an official ear tag to identify the BSE minimal risk region of origin before entering the U.S. The tag must be applied before arrival at the port of entry and be traceable to the animal’s premises of origin. The fed cattle portion is also simple. Fed cattle under 30 months of age will be allowed into the U.S. for slaughter and will arrive at recognized slaughter facilities in sealed containers, and slaughtered as a group. The cattle will have to be marked as to the country of origin, but that designation will not follow through to consumers—at least until the end of September of 2006, when mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) is to be implemented. The perplexing part of the proposed rule is that the U.S. will accept all Canadian beef, providing specified risk materials (SRMs) are removed, but the U.S. won’t slaughter any live cattle coming in to the U.S. that are older than 30 months old. In other words, Canada can ship us non-fed cow/beef that is over 30 months old, but the U.S. cannot slaughter non-fed cows over 30 months of age from Canada. Seems like a double standard at work here. Accepting cow beef was a bit surprising since the feed bans have only been in place for seven years. Just recently a Canadian newspaper found that Canada’s feed ban may not have been very well enforced, and that is likely to be one of R-CALF’s talking points when they reach the courts in their efforts to point out that Canadian beef is unsafe. It would seem logical to expect some market pressure. The futures have already made adjustments for the March and April months. USDA’s economic analysis point out that down side pressure may only be $2-3 dollars per cwt. However, showing the world that we will take Canadian beef may help us get our export markets back, which should help fed cattle prices move as much as $15 higher. So, I suppose a net tradeoff of $12 is a good thing. Also ,the rule kept a lid on blue tongue and anaplazmosis as a trade barrier for U.S. feeder cattle going north. There is also no provision for breeding stock so there won’t be any genetic trade between the two countries. One thing is for certain—it will never be normal again.

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Monday, January 3,2005

Lamb referendum dates set

by WLJ
The voting period for the lamb referendum will be Jan. 31 through Feb. 28, according to the notice published in the Dec. 27 issue of the Federal Register. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) also announced the final referendum rules under the Lamb Promotion, Research and Information Order, more commonly known as the American Lamb Board or Lamb Checkoff Program. “We are pleased that the voting period has been scheduled. The effort that countless individuals and USDA have generated to get to this point is incredible,” said Spence Rule, chairman of the American Lamb Board. The referendum will be conducted at USDA's county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. To be eligible to participate, you must provide documentation, such as a sales receipt, that shows that you were engaged in the production, feeding or slaughtering of lambs during the period of Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2004. For a sample ballot visit: http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/mpb/rp-lamb.htm. For more information about the referendum contact Kenneth R. Payne at 202/720.1115, or by e-mail at Kenneth.Payne@usda.gov.

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Monday, January 3,2005

New Products

by WLJ
New West Nile virus treatment Colorado Serum Company recently introduced its West Nile Virus Antibody, Equine Origin, for use in controlling West Nile Virus (WNV) in horses. It is recommended that veterinarians use the West Nile Virus Antibody when the disease is detected in an unvaccinated horse or a vaccinated horse that has contracted the disease. Administered intravenously, West Nile Virus Antibody will enhance an animal’s ability to fight the virus by neutralizing it, and aid in the overall treatment. Unlike other WNV antibody treatments, this product is concentrated, purified and ready to use straight from the bottle—offering veterinarians an easy and safe tool to treat infected horses. Natural and safe, Colorado Serum’s West Nile Virus Antibody not only eliminates the need to pre-treat for possible reactions with histamine blockers or anti-inflammatory agents, but also contains no phenol. This product meets USDA field safety requirements for use in yearling or older horses, regardless of gender, breed or weight. For additional information contact Colorado Serum Company at 303/295-7527 or www.coloradoserum.com. New gate opener easy to install Tallahassee, FL-based GTO has an affordable way of automating field gates, even if they are out of range of common power sources. The firm has recently upgraded its do-it-yourself Mighty Mule E-Z swing gate openers to include commercial grade features usually found on more expensive commercial grade gate opener systems. The Mighty Mule operates on a low voltage battery that’s constantly recharged so it will still work during a power outage. It also works in extreme weather conditions. With a Mighty Mule, a gate can be opened and closed using a transmitter similar to a garage door opener. A wide variety of other accessories like automatic gate locks, gate light kits and intercoms are available to customize each individual gate system, providing peace-of-mind convenience and security. For more information, visit www.gtoinc.com or call 800/543-GATE.

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Monday, January 3,2005

Sheep Notes

by WLJ
Ewe lamb applications due USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) posted the Final Rule for the 2004 Ewe Lamb Replacement and Retention Payment Program (ELRRPP) in the Dec. 23 Federal Register. The rule announced that the application period for the program will end January 13, 2005. The program was designed to encourage the replacement and retention of the ewe-lamb breeding stock in the U.S. ELRRPP provides direct payments to producers at a rate of $18 per ewe retained in the base period from Aug. 1, 2003, through July 31, 2004. Total payments to this program cannot exceed $18 million. In the event that eligible applications result in expenditures in excess of the amount available, FSA will prorate the payments to producers in order to stay within the $18 million available for the program. The final rule does not state when producers can expect their payment, however, the second half of January is most likely. Producers still interested in applying are urged to contact their local FSA office. Faster disease testing unveiled Two new tests are offered to goat and sheep owners, through Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Regional Animal Health Laboratory (RMRAHL). The lab, a program of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, offers testing for caprine arthritis encephalitis virus (CAEV) in goats and ovine progressive pneumonia virus (OPPV) in sheep. RMRAHL tests for CAEV are done on Wednesdays with results available that day. The tests for OPPV/CAEV is available on Monday and Wednesday with results in 24 to 48 hours. For more information visit the Web site www.ag.state.co.us/animals/rmrahl/rmrahl.html or call RMRAHL at 303/477-0049. New sheep shearing record The world record for lamb shearing has been smashed by a Reporoa man, according to the New Zealand News. Justin Bell managed to shear 851 lambs in nine hours, 12 more than the record set in 2000 by Rodney Sutton. The 30-year-old has been shearing for 11 years and has achieved 13 wins as well as the Golden Shears Competition in 1998.  

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Monday, January 3,2005

Packer losses slow fed trade

by WLJ
Fed beef trade was slow and cautious last week. Cattle feeders appeared to think they were in the driver’s seat and were wanting to make packers pay more for their slaughter needs than the week previous. However, as of Thursday at noon, packers were not coming to the table with more than $90 per cwt. In fact, most bids were $88-89 across the country. For the week, as of press time Thursday, 10-12,000 head of cattle traded in northern feeding areas at mostly $139 dressed, while Texas sellers had moved only 2-3,000 head at $88 live. Most trade during the week leading up to Christmas was at $90 live. Packers were holding out until the last possible minute to purchase fed cattle for nearby slaughter needs, sources said. The primary reason for the stalemate was the fact that packer margins continued to be significantly negative. Lance Zuhrmann, analyst and consultant with M&Z Livestock Analytics, said he was convinced that packers may stay out of the cash fed cattle market until after Jan. 1, particularly if margins didn’t improve immediately. “They are out $50-60 per head right now, and at steady prices for both fed cattle coming in and boxed beef going out, the chances that profits will be seen anytime soon are slim and none,” he said. “The longer they can go without buying cattle and still selling boxed beef, the better things look for turning around their finances.” Jason Kraft, CattleHedging.com, Fort Collins, CO, said that packers weren’t expected to process many cattle last Friday—it being New Year’s Eve—and that those cattle will be shifted over to meet processing needs during the first half of the first week of 2005. David Talbot, cattle consultant with T&Z Ag Commodities, Wichita, KS, concurred with other sources, and said that below-normal kill days the previous three weeks have rebuilt packers’ captive supplies. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see captive cattle supplies be 20-25 percent above normal for this time of year,” he said. “That means they need fewer cattle on the cash market, and will set out until either the price is right or they have reached the end of available supplies. It’s possible they (packers) could get into the market Monday (Jan. 3) and have them delivered to plants by Wednesday or Thursday. It’s not without precedent.” Packers also appeared optimistic that a significant downturn in live cattle futures prices last Wednesday would turn the cash market in their favor. They were waiting for that to happen, as of Thursday midday. Live cattle futures markets had a rough week with the announcement that the U.S. would start accepting live Canadian fed and feeder cattle in March 7. December and February live cattle contracts fell 192 points on news of the announcement, as did the other listed contracts. Most feeder cattle contracts were down nearly 300 points through the April contract. Market analysts said there was no reason for December and February live cattle futures to plummet like they did. Most sources cited the lack of communication between USDA and futures traders for the decline in the two contracts closest in time. “There had to be an omission of the effective date of implementation for the rule,” said Jim Robb, analyst with the Livestock Marketing Information Center, Lakewood, CO. “The earliest Canadian cattle are going to be allowed to cross the border is March 7, well after both December and February contracts expire.” Other sources said the across-the-board futures declines were the result of the Canadian announcement last Wednesday that another cow may be infected with BSE. Boxed beef markets were stronger than the week prior. However, volumes were much lower than two weeks ago. Over 2,100 loads of fabricated beef cuts traded on the cash market during the five days leading up to Christmas eve. Last week’s trade was a bit more tame as the Choice composite cutout was trading at mostly $141 per cwt and Select was at $135.09 on moderate volume. Slaughter for the week was running mostly steady with a week earlier. Through Thursday 363,000 head had been processed, just 2,000 head behind the prior week. Cattle slaughter the week of Christmas totaled 497,000 head, 8.4 percent below a year ago. Beef production was down 7.3 percent year-to-date, which will be where the year will finish up, according to analysts’ projections. Calves, yearling trade stagnant Overall demand for all classes of feeder and stocker cattle was called “extremely anemic” last week, resulting in prices between $2-5 below the week earlier. Additional price pressure is expected in the spring when Canadian feeder cattle are allowed entry into the U.S. Most auction barns across the country didn’t hold sales, as they allowed employees and customers to enjoy the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season. Most feedlots were also said to be short staffed through the holiday, and that limited the amount of cattle, if any, allowed to enter their facilities. Adding to the lackluster demand was that cattle feeders are still swimming in red ink. Most breakevens on fed cattle are between $94-96, $4-6 higher than the most recent cash market price. Stocker operators, according to Zuhrmann, are also being hurt by red ink, and that is keeping them out of the market right now. “Many calf graziers and backgrounders bought lightweight calves at unheard of prices this summer and early fall,” he said. “The prices for heavier, more placement ready cattle have deteriorated to levels where these guys are starting to show negative margins.” Zuhrmann indicated that several stocker operators are losing $4-7 per cwt, or $25-45 per head. The CME feeder cattle index last Wednesday was $104.69, $1.50 below the previous Wednesday. — WLJ

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Monday, January 3,2005

Yellowstone bison to be vaccinated

by WLJ
The state is proposing to vaccinate bison that stray from Yellowstone National Park, a move intended to help prevent the spread of disease to Montana cattle. But some activists oppose the Livestock Department’s plan, questioning the vaccine’s efficacy. The debate heats up each winter, when some Yellowstone bison wander off in search of food. Ranchers in Montana worry the animals will transmit brucellosis, a disease that can cause cattle to abort their pregnancies. Activists contend the fear is unjustified. “Why throw taxpayer money down the drain to keep a handful of ranchers happy?” said Mike Mease of the Buffalo Field Campaign. Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said it is important to take steps to protect the livestock industry. While his group supports the vaccine, it realizes efforts won’t necessarily be 100 percent effective. “But you don’t use that as a reason not to try,” he said. An environmental assessment by Montana’s livestock department proposes vaccinating calves and yearlings that leave the park’s western boundary and enter the state. The process would take place “opportunistically,” the document said, as part of bison management activities. Comments on the plan are being taken through Jan. 5. The department expects to make a decision by Jan. 31. If approved, a program could be in place this winter. Yellowstone bison have been vaccinated before, but it is the first time the state suggested inoculating those that stray form the park. A joint state-federal management plan already allows for the hazing and capture of bison that leaver the park, and for brucellosis testing. Those testing positive are sent to slaughter.

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Monday, January 3,2005

WHO: Ways of raising animals must change

by WLJ
The way animals are raised for food needs to be urgently changed in an attempt to prevent a possible global flu pandemic that could kill millions of people, a senior World Health Organization official said Friday, Nov. 26. Shigeru Omi, Western Pacific regional director of WHO, said bird flu could cause the next global pandemic, and efforts to control it must begin with farming methods. “I believe we are closer now to a pandemic than at any time recent years," Omi said. He said the current outbreak of bird flu in poultry is "historically unprecedented in terms of geographical spread and impact," the virus "appears to be not only very resilient, but also extremely versatile," and influenza pandemics historically appear every 20 to 30 years. “On this basis, the next one is overdue,” he said. Omi told a meeting of regional health ministers and senior officials that "it's very important to address the root cause of the disease -that is, the transmission from animals to humans." “This means a thorough overhaul of animal husbandry practices, and the way animals are raised for food in the region. I believe that anything less than that will only result in further threats to public health," he added. Chickens, ducks and other animals are often allowed to roam freely on small Southeast Asian farms, and often come into close contact with wild animals and with family members. Some animal health experts have been promoting so-called "closed-system farming," in which poultry are raised in a sealed environment where they face minimal exposure to outside infections. But the system is likely to be prohibitively expensive for many poor farmers. The H5N1 bird flu virus, which first spread among chickens, has killed 32 people this year in Thailand and Vietnam. Health officials fear it could combine with a human flu virus, creating a new form that could spread rapidly throughout the world. WHO says a pandemic could cause an estimated 2 million to 7 million deaths and make billions of people ill. Health ministers and senior officials from 10 Southeast Asian countries, along with China, Japan and South Korea, are among more than 100 people attending a meeting this week in Bangkok to develop strategies against bird flu and other infectious diseases. — WLJ

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