PHOENIX – President Bush will ask Congress for $60 million to fund a national cattle identification system and other mad cow-related programs in his budget proposal, the agriculture secretary said Thursday.
The request for the 2005 fiscal year will be $47 million more than the current year's funding, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (search) convention.
More than half the money, $33 million, would be used to develop the identification system for the nation's 96 million cattle — a program congressional Democrats were pushing this week.
Under the Bush request, $17 million would be spent to collect 40,000 samples for mad cow tests at farms and rendering plants. The remaining money would be used for food and grain inspections and to develop more tests for mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Eating beef containing the disease can lead in humans to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (search), which is fatal.
Despite the discovery of a Holstein cow infected with mad cow disease (search) in Washington state on Dec. 23, the U.S. beef industry has held up well. Domestic demand remains strong, and prices have bounced back from initial declines of 15 percent to 20 percent, Veneman said.
U.S. officials still are trying to persuade other countries to begin accepting U.S. beef again. Veneman said her department has been working especially hard to reopen Japan and Mexico, two of the largest international markets for U.S. beef.
Export sales represent about 10 percent of total U.S. beef sales, though some beef products — like short ribs and tongues — are more heavily dependent on international sales.
Veneman said the Agriculture Department is trying to develop a system that will be flexible and will integrate with the identification systems that some cattlegrowers and states are already using.
"What we don't want to do is put extra burdens on producers so they need multiple systems," she said.
The cattlemen's association also has developed its own plan for implementing a nationwide system, which it hopes to persuade the federal government to adopt and fund.