Rancher speaks out about killing of his 449 bull calves

January 17, 2004

Associated Press
King 5 News

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. - The local rancher whose 449 bull calves had to be killed because one was mothered by a Holstein with mad cow disease said the government's action has left him in a bind.

"They did compensate me. They offered a fair price (for the calves), but I have no job (market) now and I have workers I'm still paying," Sergio Madrigal, 34, said, speaking through an interpreter.

Madrigal, whose wife is expecting their fourth child, said he's covering a number of costs out of his own pocket, including the decontamination of his ranch, plus the debt service on money he has borrowed.

An empty cattle hauler sits parked along State Highway 2 in Wilbur, Wash., where 449 calves were taken to a private facility to be euthanized.
Madrigal and two other Hispanic cattlemen appeared at a Yakima news conference Friday organized by the Rural Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that represents minority and other small farmers.

The coalition, headed by Lorette Picciano, was in Yakima to conduct a small-farm management workshop hosted by the Center for Latino Farmers, a local group.

"It's a global market. What happens to the food chain in Washington state eventually has an impact everywhere," Picciano said. "But we're also concerned about the impact that mad cow disease is having on minority and small farmers."

Malaquias Flores, director of the Center for Latino Farmers, introduced Madrigal, Juan Raya and Juan Fernandez, three Lower Valley ranchers. All three, he said, exemplify what small, minority ranchers are facing as the mad cow drama evolves.

"It's been very difficult for Latino farmers," Flores said.

"There's been little done to help them and their families. There's been little said about them. They're also suffering because of mad cow."

Madrigal's 449 bull calves were euthanized at a private slaughterhouse in Wilbur on Jan. 6. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the herd would have to be killed after it was discovered that the calf born to the Mabton Holstein that tested positive for mad cow disease late last month had not been tagged and could not be identified.

The infected Holstein was slaughtered Dec. 9. Agriculture officials announced Dec. 23 that the cow had tested positive for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The disease eats holes in the brains of cattle and is a public health concern because humans can develop a brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from consuming contaminated beef products. Scientists believe humans get the disease by eating brain or spinal matter from an infected animal.

Because bovine brains are a popular ingredient in Mexican food, Flores wondered: "Will there be a black market for cow brains? Where will that product come from?" Flores interpreted for Madrigal, Raya and Fernandez, as they told how mad cow has crippled their operations.

"Right now, there are no calves for sale - we live for that," said Raya, 37, a Prosser cattle-feeder operator who is married with four children. Normally, Raya said he buys calves in lots of 60 and 70.

Fernandez, 35, and a Sunnyside feeder operator, voiced similar complaints about the lack of calves for sale.

All three said the USDA is spending a lot of time counseling and listening to English-speaking cattlemen with large, established operations, but has not given that kind of attention to Spanish-speaking farmers.

"We need more information about this issue and what is going to happen. There is little information handed out in Spanish," Madrigal said.

Hispanics farmers aren't the only ones complaining.

Ross Racine, director of the Billings, Mont.-based Intertribal Agricultural Council, accused the federal government of catering to the needs of large producers at the expense of small farmers.

"'Why aren't you consulting with us?' we ask. 'Oh, we forgot,' is the answer we get," said Racine, whose organization represents Indian farmers nationwide.



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