Mad Cow Could Prompt Consumers to Shuffle Off to Buffalo

DENVER - The first case of mad cow disease in the United States may encourage consumers to try buffalo, according to a Reuters report.

Buffalo were widely used by Indians for food, shelter, and fuel, but were hunted to the verge of extinction by 19th-century settlers. In recent years a bison industry has developed, and ranchers hope it will attract new consumers looking for an alternative to beef as fear of mad cow disease spreads.

"We would much prefer people call up and ask about bison because they hear that it tastes great," Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association told Reuters. "And nobody should feel nervous about eating beef in the U.S."

The commercial industry, which dates to the mid-1980s, has been through ups and downs but last year started to see a rebound due to increased interest in high-protein diets.

Buffalo are fed grass, then corn or potatoes for 90 to 120 days before they are slaughtered when they weigh around 2,000 pounds. They are not fed antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal byproducts. The use of cattle remains in certain animal feed was blamed for spreading mad cow in Britain. It is estimated about 31,000 head of buffalo were slaughtered last year, up from 25,641 in 2002.

A pound of ground buffalo meat costs about $4.99, compared with $4 for high-quality lean ground beef. Bison boosters say the meat has a similar flavor to prime beef but is sweeter and more tender. It's lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol than beef but contains more protein and iron.

Paul Bernardo, v.p. of sales and marketing at Rocky Mountain Natural Meats in Denver, told Reuters Safeway's Denver stores this week increased their bison order by 65 percent. "Some of our major customers were also calling to make sure that beef was not added to our bison meat," Bernardo said.
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