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Distributors: All Quiet in the Marketplace;Operators Didn't Endure Diners' Decline

NEW YORK. - More than two weeks after the discovery of the first case of BSE in a domestic cow, the foodservice industry seems to be returning to normal without having endured a consumer backlash, according to several foodservice distributorships contacted by ID Report.

One of the reasons for the lack of an uproar is the non-hysterical presentation of facts by the news media. Gary Odegard, vice-president of corporate communications, Food Services of America, Seattle, said he wasn't called even once by the media about the incident.

"The news media has done a very responsible job in this situation because they were telling the facts and not creating a doomsday scenario. The media was dealing with this not as a food chain issue but a farm issue. That's the way the USDA has been treating this. It's a farm management issue," Odegard said. As a result, the message to operators and consumers was that the safety of the beef that they were to plate or consume shouldn't concern them.

"This had a calming effect on operators and consumers. Overall meat sales really did not fall off. On the foodservice level, I didn't have any indication that our customer base suffered," he added, noting that FSA did not receive any of the potentially tainted meat.

Sysco Corp., Houston, issued a statement in which it stated its confidence "in the control and surveillance procedures in place by the USDA inspection service. As Ann Veneman, secretary of agriculture, said, despite the finding of the reported BSE incident, we remain confident in the safety of our beef supply.

"The USDA inspection service implemented many critical safeguards in the U.S. animal agricultural system that place the risk to human health from BSE extremely low. Food safety is absolutely paramount to Sysco and we're in compliance with all federally-mandated procedures."

John Palizza, assistant treasurer for the largest foodservice distributor in America, pointed out that the broadliner's operating companies did not report an inordinate amount of operator concerns. While cautioning that it is too early to predict long-term fallout from this occurrence, Palizza noted, "I certainly think that people are going to continue to eat out and there's no reason to believe that their eating patterns of the past will not continue in terms of the percentage of how much they eat at home and how much they eat in restaurants. The larger issue is how much demand they shift away from beef products."

David Barta, Tacoma, WA, manager for Bargreen-Ellingson, Inc., an equipment and supplies dealer, also said the firm's operator customers were spared any negative consequences. "This time of the year is always busy. Consumers are probably eating more chicken and less beef but they're still going to the restaurants. The restaurateurs that I've talked to say that consumers are eating less beef but more other products but it hasn't kept them from going to the restaurants," Barta indicated.

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