One sick cow isn’t keeping East Valley meat lovers from savoring steaks and burgers.
Beef sales in local Safeway supermarkets have not slipped in the week since a cow in Washington was diagnosed with the deadly bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease, said Kerry Luginbill, company spokeswoman.
“We attribute it to the fact that we were able to confirm early on that we didn’t have any of this meat in our system,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported that the beef supply is safe, and the industry has voluntarily recalled meat from eight states — Arizona is not one of them — that might have been processed on the same day in the same place as the sick cow.
At Chandler-based Bashas’, spokeswoman Alison Bendler said it was too early to tell if meat sales have been affected by the scare.
She said Bashas’ is making it clear to customers that the meat in its coolers is not even from the same state.
At Fry’s, it has been business as usual at the meat counter, said Jim Nygren, Fry’s spokesman.
“I don’t see any impact, and I don’t think we will see much here because none of the product was ever shipped to us, or to anywhere in the state, as far as I know,” Nygren said.
Local Albertson’s beef sales also stayed strong this week, and there were no price changes — or any anticipated, said Karen Ramos, Albertson’s spokeswoman.
“We buy meat in the market far ahead of delivery, so we wouldn’t see a change in supply or prices for some time,” she said. Ramos said, however, if beef sales started to fall nationwide and prices fell accordingly, the company would probably try to renegotiate better deals with meat suppliers.
While 30 countries from Mexico to Australia have banned the importation of U.S. beef, back home consumers appear to be convinced beef is safe safe to eat.
Nationally, neither meat sales nor prices have dropped, said Steve Reed, economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics.
“Price behavior is always a function of supply and demand,” he said. “For the past 10 months, beef demand has been increasing, pushing prices up.”
The tab for beef scored several record highs in 2003, according to USDA statistics. November’s average price was $4.32, up 30 percent from November 2002.
But factors caused by the mad cow scare could change the situation, Reed said, including the international ban on U.S. meat.
“Logically, if beef can’t be exported, that increases the domestic supply,” Reed said. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said the U.S. beef industry exports about 10 percent of its production annually, valued at nearly $3 billion.
But Reed said countering the potential glut of meat from halted exports is the voluntary recall and destruction of beef. So far, that hasn’t been a large amount, he said, but if the recall is expanded, for any reason, it could shrink the supply.
If it happens because more sick cows are found, that also could change consumers’ perceptions. “If the mad cow scare worsens, we should see falling prices,” Reed said.
Meat-focused eateries from steakhouses to fast-food burger shops around the country reported sales, which have been on a big upswing all year — thanks, some analysts say, to the popularity of the Atkin’s high-protein diet — continued strong since the mad cow was discovered.
“There has been no impact on Wendy’s recent sales trends over the past three days (Friday through Sunday), since the announcement,” Wendy’s International chairman Jack Schuessler said in a statement Monday. Schuessler, like supermarket officials, was quick to mention that the meat supply for Wendy’s and the company’s Baja Fresh Mexican Grill chain did not come from Washington state.
McDonald’s Corp. vice president Walt Riker issued a similar statement Sunday, claiming, “As of Dec. 27, there has been no impact on sales. Of course we’ve been watching not just the volume of our sales but the specific McDonald’s products being sold and we’ve noticed no reduction in the beef product being purchased. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”
At the higher end eateries, folks still seem to be devouring steaks. The National Restaurant Association has not heard of problems from member steakhouses, spokesman Tom Foulkes said.
“Sound science is behind the USDA findings,” Foulkes said. “The American food supply is safe. Beef is safe. There should be no problem.”
The industry is hoping it stays that way. But Foulkes admitted the ripples might not be felt yet.
“Since this just came to light, it’s impossible to see what the economic impact could be,” he said.