MABTON, Wash. — As the government planned a weeklong round of cattle-killing in response to a mad cow case in this town, hundreds of residents crammed into a school gymnasium Saturday to show their support for the beef industry.
About 350 people attended a rally that featured booths offering literature about mad cow disease and T-shirts encouraging people to eat beef. Many more stopped by for free food; organizers gave away ribs, hot dogs and more than 1,000 hamburgers.
"I'm more afraid of someone at a restaurant not washing their hands than I'm worried about this," said Frances Sonner, 75, at the rally with her older brother, Clarence.
Mabton, in south central Washington, is home to the Sunny Dene ranch, where a Holstein with mad cow disease lived before it was slaughtered Dec. 9. Post-mortem tests on the cow, which was born in Canada, revealed it had the disease. The discovery prompted dozens of nations to ban U.S. beef until its safety could be ensured.
Last week, authorities in Washington state killed a herd of 449 calves, including an offspring of the infected cow.
At the rally Saturday, Steve Erickson, president of the Washington Cattlefeeders Assn., flipped burgers and defended his industry.
"There are many obstacles you can't always control, but we feel we have a nutritious, healthy product, and what we're fighting is emotional perception," Erickson said. "The American beef supply is the safest in the world."