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Friday, January 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Beef tallow in fries raises fears among foreign buyers

By The Associated Press

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KENNEWICK — Fallout from the mad-cow scare in Washington state has hit the potato industry, with more than $500,000 worth of frozen French fries — prefried in beef tallow — held in limbo at ports.

The delay raises concerns that other exports containing beef products could be affected by the bans countries have imposed on U.S. beef because of mad-cow disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Dec. 23 that the disease had been discovered in a dairy cow from Mabton, about 40 miles southeast of Yakima. Since then, more than 35 countries have imposed bans on U.S. beef imports.

French fries and other potato products are prefried in beef tallow or vegetable oil by the manufacturer before they are frozen and shipped. They are then fried again before being served.

Most products fried in beef tallow are exported, while vegetable oil is used domestically, said Pat Boss, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission.

At least 60 containers of frozen potatoes have been delayed at Northwest and Asian ports. Each container can hold about 40,000 pounds of frozen potato products.

Boss said potato processors were concerned the containers might not be allowed into China and Korea. Japan was allowing some containers into the country but holding them in warehouses, he said.

There is no evidence that beef tallow can transmit mad-cow disease to humans, Boss said, but that doesn't matter if customers don't think it is safe.

"The buyers are reporting that they want to move away from those products," Boss said. "I really do think there is a level of hysteria building because of mad cow, and unfortunately other products are being lumped in."

Potato processors and growers in the Northwest depend especially on Japan's large export market. About 500,000 tons of fries, or $100 million worth, went to Japan last year, Boss said. Other key export markets for fries include Mexico, China, Korea and Taiwan, all of which have acted to ban U.S. beef.


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