February 15, 2004
Frb. 2004 -- When the announcement of a Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) dairy cow was made on Dec. 23, 2003, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) was ready. Fourteen years ago the insinuations that BSE arose from scrapie caught sheep people by surprise. Since then ASI has accumulated a very large file on scrapie and the other Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies.
I received a phone call from ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick on Dec. 23, 2003. Together he and I listened to Secretary Veneman?s comprehensive announcement of the BSE cow in Washington state. Afterward Peter assured me that he and Paul Rodgers, ASI deputy director of policy, would monitor the situation.
Within 24 hours they had produced talking points to help ASI?s officers, staff and state presidents answer any questions in a press interview. Thankfully none were needed.
Unlike several years ago, there have been few if any references to sheep and scrapie. The hard work of the ASI staff and volunteers over the years has done much to remove sheep and scrapie from the BSE discussion.
This does not mean we can relax our efforts or that the BSE scare will have no effect on American sheep producers. We will see an increased push for positive animal ID and an ability to trace food animals to their farm of origin.
The sheep industry is one or two steps ahead of the cattle industry with the current scrapie ID system. The coming ID system may strike some producers as unnecessarily onerous. ASI will do what it can to mitigate the difficulties.
The ID working group will meet in Sacramento under the direction of Dr. Cindy Wolf. Its suggestions will be forwarded to the appropriate agencies and will undoubtedly find their way into the new rules.
As I write this more than 30 countries have banned the importation of some types of American ruminant material. We will need some creativity to continually find and cultivate new markets in the United States and abroad for sheep products.
This should not be too difficult. Mutton imports, for example, have been going up for several years now, so there must be a market. Under the 201 promotion monies a grant was given to develop a market for "barbacoa," a Mexican favorite that uses cull ewes. The ethnic markets in our big cities use large numbers of mature sheep and goats.
We may see an increase in demand for ?grass fed? and organic lamb. New Zealand has been running ad campaigns for its ?free range lamb? and promotes their ?green? image. In marketing organic lamb we must be aware of government regulations and definitions.
While we didn?t want to see it happen the staff and volunteers at ASI were aware that a BSE-infected cow might be found in the United States. We prepared accordingly. We wrote press releases and news stories over the years, attempting to show the separation between sheep scrapie and mad cow. We kept in touch with researchers, and where we could, we invested time and resources to help them find the answers.
We have aided the National Animal Health Monitoring System surveys and the recent nationwide scrapie surveillance studies. We have prepared for an eventuality that did happen.
As producers we must do the same. Gather the best knowledge or research possible, be versatile and aware in our marketing practices and approach the future with confidence.