WICHITA, Kan. — Consumers should find lower prices at their meat counters the rest of this year in the wake of a slowing economy that has created a glut in the nation's cattle markets, analysts said.
The same public uncertainty that has reduced air travel and tourism is also driving down demand for beef at hotels, restaurants and resorts. That's having a big impact on cattle prices, considering that half of the beef raised in this country is eaten outside the home, said James Mintert, Kansas State University extension economist.
Aggravating beef's downward spiral was the discovery last month of mad cow disease in Japan, the single biggest buyer of U.S. beef. Early trade reports suggest Japanese consumers are not buying either their own domestic beef or U.S. exports, Mintert said.
"It is a very nervous market — people are very concerned where consumer demand for beef will be, even in the short run," Mintert said.
Industry groups are urging consumers to take advantage of the low prices — and eat more beef.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the trade and marketing organization for U.S. beef producers, has been urging consumers to keep watch for favorable beef prices as the market adjusts to current economic conditions.
The association has asked the government to buy more beef for its food service programs, while asking retailers to note the lower prices and pass on the savings.
"With ample beef supplies for the rest of 2001, we are encouraging supermarkets and restaurants to take advantage of lower prices now and pass those savings on to consumers," said Chuck Lambert, the NCBA's chief economist.