The mad days of mad cow are long gone. Such a conclusion may not be entirely embraced by China's trade ministry or various customers of Brazil where several cases on atypical BSE have been discovered in recent years.
Yet for the most part BSE and its linkage with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) has been driven from the world's emotional radar. It's been more than 25 years since the panic first surfaced in Britain, nearly 15 years since it roiled through Japan, and a decade since the first case of BSE was discovered in North America.
Though the initial fear of human casualties in the UK justified the slaughter of 184,000 cattle in the late 1980s and early 1990s, less than 200 Britons have officially died of vCJD since that time. Even hypochondriacs and chronic alarmists agree that not only is BSE extremely rare, its causal chain to vCJD is rarer still.
But even though this once enormously bearish story now seems analogous to a dull needle lost in a mountainous stack of hay, I admit to feeling a momentary wave of stomach acid when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed earlier this week that a Texas man died of vCJD.
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My anxiety quickly subsided upon learning that this unfortunate man had significantly engaged in world travel throughout his life, living abroad for extended periods of time. In other words, like the small handful of vCJD victims that have died in the country, there was ample evidence to suggest the dreaded disease had been contracted outside the U.S.
Nevertheless, I'm paid to worry about the market (please send checks directly to my psychiatrist). Markets are famous for being irrational beasts. What if this rogue and irrelevant story turned out to have the destructive plumage of a "Black Swan" (i.e., an unexpected wildcard that somehow manages to spook the forces of conventional wisdom into full retreat)?
Thursday's overnight trade didn't seem to be bothered, but it wasn't until pit trading closed spot June impressively over 140 just before the weekend break that I recapped my large bottle of Tums.
The unnerving nightmare of 2004 has been tough to shake, especially since it took such a long time to get past years of night sweats (e.g., rebuilding export demand). But it really looks like the keen focus of 2014 on short meat supplies has thankfully moved the cattle market on.
But speaking of unforgettable nightmare, I can't resist a postscript, one that has nothing to do with BSE or tight beef supplies or higher cattle prices.
A friend of mine, whose dad parachuted into France 70 years ago today, sent me an attachment this morning containing a picture of a white cross, one of those haunting monuments of ultimate service that seem to stretch for miles over Omaha Beach.
He had taken the picture in 2007 when his family visited the coast of Normandy, feeling duty bound to pay respect to so many who had died for a cause greater than their own. Not recognizing the name on the cross and thinking he might be a relative, I asked my friend "Who was this guy?" Here's what he e-mailed back.
"Just a farm kid from Kentucky probably. But he had the misfortune of being in the 116th Infantry, 29 Division that morning. All those guys were decimated."
Whatever his personal story, he was just one soldier who perished along with more than 10,000 U.S. comrades on D-Day, a true nightmare that we forget at both our own peril and dishonor.
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