Nevada ranchers are faring better than expected after the first case of mad cow disease in the United States, state officials said.
"We're in a free fall, but not as far as most of the industry thought," said Ron Torell, a University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension livestock specialist.
"We're going to weather this storm, and one way is to become educated," he added.
Torell and state veterinarian David Thain gave an update on the situation to nearly 150 people last week at the Elko Convention Center.
Thain said cattlemen associations helped minimize the hysteria with their quick response as word spread that the disease had hit the country. The lone infected cow turned up last month in Washington state.
"We haven't seen consumers scared to death. Generally, the hysteria has been kept in hand," Thain said, adding there's an extremely low health risk to the public.
Preston Wright, president of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, said he thinks the public would have panicked a decade ago, but it hasn't today.
"People have gotten a little more sophisticated," he told the Elko Daily Free Press. "I've been pleased with the resilience of the market and the demand."
Chances are very slim that any Nevada cattle are infected, Wright stressed.
The meat and bone feed that triggers the disease's spread has been banned since 1997 in the country, although compliance wasn't 100 percent.
"Range cattle generally are not eating those kinds of feed," Wright said, adding coyotes dispose of cattle that die.
Cattle prices last week in Texas, Kansas and Chicago markets sold in the range of $74 to $78 per hundredweight, down from a $90 range a few weeks ago.
While the market hasn't fallen as much as expected, ranchers will see impacts other than lower beef prices, Thain said.
They include new Agriculture Department regulations that dying cows can't be processed into the food chain, which could have a $75 million to $100 million impact, he said.
Ranchers also would have to pay for disposing dying cows, which could cost another $50 million to $100 million.
Rachel Buzzetti, executive director of the cattlemen's association, said most Nevada ranchers sold calves for the year before prices dropped, and there has been little impact to the industry.
"Consumers are listening to people they buy beef from," she said.
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Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/fact/cjd.htm (The Center for Disease Control Web site) and http://cjdfoundation.org/CJDInfo.html (The Creutxfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation Web site)