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Estimated 2,500 turn out to support Valley's beef industry

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Steve Erickson of Van de Graaf Ranches (L) and Matt Lommers throw burgers on the grill at the "eat beef" rally held at Mabton High School Saturday afternoon. An estimated 2,500 people attended the event in support of the beef industry.

MABTON - Nothing could stop beef eaters from enjoying the juicy burgers and ribs at the "Eat Beef" rally held Saturday at Mabton High School.

Although the weather was cold and dreary, the hearts of those in the beef and dairy industry were warmed as an estimated 2,500 supporters of the beef industry gathered at what emcee Dave Ettle referred to as "ground zero," for a free barbecue and rally.

The eat beef rally was sponsored in support of the beef industry in the wake of the BSE case found at a Mabton dairy.

Steve Erickson of Van de Graaf Ranches, one of the organizers of the event, likened the rally to county fair barbecues, similar to those like when he was growing up.

"It was nice to see local people support you and realize that what we're fighting here is an emotional perception," said Erickson.

Although Erickson spent most of his time with a metal spatula in his hand, he said that the mood he saw was a festive one.

He said that a lot of people understand that BSE doesn't pose a risk.

"We still have the safest food supply known to man," he added.

David Taylor, vice president of the Yakima County Cattlemen's Assoc., one of the sponsors of the event, said, "While several governmental organizations scrambled to investigate how the Holstein cow contracted the disease and where the animal came from, members of the Yakima County Cattlemen's Association began a campaign to educate the public as to the facts known by the scientific community."

He said that education on the science of BSE has been crucial in allaying public fears of beef.

Also showing support for the beef and dairy industry was Yakima County Commissioner Jesse Palacios.

"We're in 100 percent support of the beef and dairy industry here in Yakima County," said Palacios.

"I like my beef and I like it 100 percent Washington grown," he added.

Also showing support for the beef industry was Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco), who has been in contact with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman since the mad cow disease case in Mabton was first discovered.

Hastings said even with a case of BSE found in the U.S., consumers are continuing to purchase beef.

"We have said over and over that the United States is BSE free. Now that it's conclusive that this came from outside the U.S. we have a good argument (for our beef importers)," said Hastings.

Also in Mabton to show support for the beef industry was gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (R-Sammamish), whose platform is one of turning the state's economy around.

The former state senator learned of the event the day before and trekked across a mountain pass just to support the beef industry.

"I think showing support for the cattlemen and their families here in Washington State is important," said Rossi.

He said farming and the cattle industry is the centerpiece to the state's economy.

The night he learned that a case of BSE was found in Washington state had him worried, knowing how key the beef industry is to the economy.

"The bottom line is Washington beef is safe to consume," said Rossi. "I wouldn't be here today and eating if it wasn't."

. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mbrowning@eaglenewspapers.com

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