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Memorial Day Weekend Signals Start of Peak Meat Grilling Season

Friday, May 23, 2003

Washington, DC - Memorial Day signals the start of the summer grilling season and the American Meat Institute (AMI) says consumers should expect high value - and a high margin of safety.

Americans consume more than 12 billion hamburgers annually, just part of the 26 billion pounds of beef Americans consume each year, according to AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. “And the pace of consumption picks up when grilling season starts. In fact, we expect consumers to eat 250 million burgers this weekend alone,” he said. Memorial Day is the second most popular grilling holiday behind only the Fourth of July.

According to Boyle, government data show that new science and technology used on farms and in plants is enhancing cattle health and giving processors new food safety tools that have created a beef supply that is safer than it has been at any point in history.

Boyle acknowledged that a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a cow in Canada has caused some consumers to ask questions, but stressed that Canada’s inspection system worked and officials prevented the animal from entering the food supply. He said there are some important factors that will reassure consumers about U.S. cattle health and beef safety.

“First, we don’t have BSE in U.S. cattle herds. The U.S. has a ‘triple firewall’ preventative strategy, which includes import controls, feed restrictions and careful surveillance to block the disease and to detect and control it rapidly if it did occur,” he said. Boyle cited a 2001 Harvard University review of U.S. prevention strategies, which found that “measures taken have made the U.S. robust against the spread of the disease to animals or humans.”

Second, BSE is cattle disease that is not contagious and is not spread from animal to animal contact or from animal to human contact, Boyle said.

Third, beef does not carry the BSE infective agent. Rather, parts of the central nervous system from infected animals are the significant source of health risk. Americans do not typically consume these products nor are they added to any meat products. By contrast, Europeans do consume beef brains and other such products and they were being consumed routinely when BSE was peaking in British cattle herds.

“We are optimistic that Canada’s single case of BSE will remain an isolated case,” he said. According to Boyle, just because a single case is diagnosed, does not mean more are likely. In contrast to the United Kingdom, where 178,000 cases have been diagnosed in cattle, a number of nations worldwide have had one or two cases and no more.

Boyle said he agreed with one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists and public health experts Dr. Harry Hull of the State of Minnesota, who told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this week, “If I were scheduled to have hamburger tonight, I wouldn't be worried about it."

Attention reporters: For current food safety information, visit www.meatinstitute.org and click on Press Center.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Senior VP, Public Affairs
Dan Murphy
Vice President, Public Affairs

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