Consumers are expected to keep eating beef in the wake of the largest beef recall in history, just as they did when the United States reported its first case of mad cow disease in late 2003, two economists said on Tuesday.
The recall this weekend immediately took 143 million pounds of beef off the market.
“When you remove that amount of beef from the market, assuming that consumers’ tastes don’t change, there will be an increase in the price of beef,” said Jacinto Fabiosa, co-director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Center in Ames, Iowa.
Much of the 143 million pounds, which was raw and frozen beef produced since February 2006, has already been consumed, but economists said a drop in the supply coupled with no change in consumer demand should mean higher prices.
The recall is not expected to turn consumers away from beef because no illnesses have been linked to the beef and consumers have endured other food scares.
“It has to be in the first 5 minutes of a newscast and they have to have a picture of somebody suffering for it to register. Until that happens, it is a nonevent,” said Michael Swanson, a Wells Fargo agricultural economist.
Consumers kept eating beef after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in December 2003. U.S. beef exports dropped sharply then, but domestic demand was largely unchanged, the economists said.
“If you gauge their response on what has already been revealed in terms of their sensitivity to those types of issues," Fabiosa said, "you can probably be on the safe side and say it will not be too big a story.”
The recall of 143 million lbs came after a video showed employees at California’s Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co forcing lame cattle into the slaughter house, a violation of federal meat safety rules.
The plant has been closed since early February.