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Holiday Meat Sales Sizzle Despite Mad Cow Case

Legions of Americans threw steaks, hamburgers, chicken, pork chops and a variety of other meats on outdoor grills during the holiday weekend thanks to rain-free weather over much of the country, meat stores and industry analysts said.

The beef industry may be particularly relieved by reports of brisk holiday meat sales, because it should prove that consumers were not turned away by the latest case of mad cow disease.

Cattle futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (search) bounded higher Tuesday, the first trading session after the Monday holiday, in part because of preliminary reports of active weekend beef sales, livestock analysts said.

In late June, just as consumers were beginning to shop for Fourth of July barbecues and picnics, the U.S. Agriculture Department (search) confirmed that a beef cow slaughtered late in 2004 had mad cow disease.

USDA was quick to report that the beef from the infected animal never entered the food chain. Analysts at the time said that should sooth most concerns by consumers.

"We were quite busy this past week. I don't think anyone mentioned anything about mad cow," said George Dervenis, general manager of Chicago's Columbus Meat Market. "As long as the weather is nice, people will go out and barbecue no matter what."

Mad cow disease (search) is a fatal brain disease in cattle and the concern is scientists believe humans can contract a similar fatal disease if they eat infected meat from an animal with the disease.

The United States has had only two cases of the disease, one in December 2003 and the latest one.

A Denver meat shop owner said sales of beef steaks, chicken and even salmon were brisk. Also, there were few questions about mad cow disease.

"I didn't see as many questions as I did when it originally came out a year and half ago. I think consumers have become a little more educated on the subject," said Jeff Tucker, owner of Fred's Fine Meats in Denver.

Tucker said he trained his staff to handle any mad cow questions that might be asked.

"Probably the biggest sellers were the rib-eyes, second were the filets, with New York strips and sirloins good," he said of the holiday meat sales.

The New Hampshire-based Steiner Consulting Group, which works with the food industry, said ground beef and sausage sales were brisk throughout the country during the holiday and overall meat sales were somewhat better than a year ago.

"We are finding in general business was good," said Len Steiner, an owner of the consulting group.

While sales of beef were brisk for holiday cookouts, it is unlikely beef prices will bound higher because meat sales generally are slow from now through August.

"We had a good Fourth of July and we are happy for that, but this is just the wrong time of year to be looking for such a rally," said Ann Barnhardt, analyst for the livestock consulting firm HedgersEdge.com (search).