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Gov. Locke treks to Lower Valley to allay mad cow disease concerns

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Governor Gary Locke (L) urges the public to follow his lead and continue to eat beef, during a town hall meeting held in Mabton Wednesday afternoon. Locke was on a tour of Yakima Valley as a show of support for the state's livestock industry following the BSE discovery in a single cow located at a Mabton dairy. Also pictured are (at right) Mabton Mayor David Conradt, State Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside and Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger.

MABTON - Stressing the need to support of the state's livestock industry during the current mad cow crisis, Governor Gary Locke was in Mabton yesterday (Thursday) urge the public to continue to "eat beef."

Locke read a proclamation declaring Jan. 17-24 as "Washington Beef and Dairy Week" and asked everyone to continue to enjoy Washington beef, milk and dairy products.

"I urge everyone to continue to support our state farmers and ranchers now and throughout the year," he said.

He said there is a need to develop a national identification program for all cattle, as well as funding the development of faster BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) testing methods.

Locke asked for the input from the group of more than 100 livestock producers and distributors who gathered for his town hall meeting held at the Wanita Grange Hall, located several miles north of Mabton.

Listening to the beef and dairy growers' concerns, Locke said he will work to aid the state livestock industry as it works to regroup following the United States Department of Agriculture's announcement that the nation's first case of BSE had been discovered in a Mabton dairy cow in December.

He asked for the help of industry leaders in developing strategies to retain the public confidence in the safety of beef.

Locke's visit to Mabton was seen as a show of support for the area, which came under the national and international spotlight on Dec. 23.

"The governor's proclamation comes at a very important time for Washington's beef and dairy industry," said Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside.

"We need to continue to support our ranchers and farmers," said Honeyford, who accompanied Locke on his visit to Mabton. He said since the one case of BSE was found in Mabton last month, government officials have taken the proper steps to ensure that the nation's beef supply is safe.

"People need to be aware of that. I join the governor in urging citizens in our state to continue enjoying beef, milk and dairy products," the senator said.

Granger dairyman LaDon Linde said he appreciated the Governor's support of the livestock industry. "We thank you for the proclamation," said Linde, who is the vice president of the Washington State Dairy Federation.

"We have confidence in the painstaking steps the USDA is taking in the BSE investigation," he added. "And, we appreciate the steps being taken to assure we remain pro-active."

Noting that the USDA has been testing for BSE for 14 years. Linde said that of the 100,000 animals tested only one cow has been found to be infected with the disease.

"We have to maintain a sense of perspective in this situation," he added.

Steve Erickson of Sunnyside and president of the state Cattlefeeders Association, asked the governor to do what he can to remove the bans on the export of cattle which were issued immediately following the BSE discovery.

"We're selling cattle every day," Erickson told the Governor.

"But the price of beef is steadily falling and we need to get those markets reopened," he said.

Erickson said his association is in favor of the national identification system. "We also need to speed up the testing for the disease," Erickson added.

Locke said meetings with the Japanese and Mexican trade unions have already been held, toward the reopening of the overseas markets. "But it will take some time," he noted.

Locke thanked the livestock industry groups and local communities affected by this incident for their "...patience, understanding and cooperation with this federal investigation."

Locke held his town hall meeting at the grange hall following a tour of Ray's Meats in Yakima, where he not only observed how beef is processed but purchased meat for his family's use.

Locke, accompanied by Valoria Loveland, director of the state's Department of Agriculture, and Yakima Valley legislators made the purchase to reinforce the message that beef is safe.

"It's important that we all do what we can to support and promote our beef industry and the safety of our beef," he said.

"We will continue to cooperate with the federal government and are directing all available resources to assist the USDA in completing its investigation," he added.

"Only one cow was found to be infected with BSE, and our food supplies were not threatened," he said.

"It's important to remember that beef remains safe to eat," he said.

He praised the Yakima Valley cattlemen and dairymen, as well as the surrounding communities affected by the aftershock of the mad cow announcement and investigation.

Noting that the past several weeks have been a challenging time for the growers and distributors, he also thanked the staffs of the USDA and the state Department of Agriculture for their continued support and efforts.

. Julia Hart can be contacted at

(509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail her at jhart@eaglenewspapers.com

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