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Mad Cow disease could affect mad money of California dairy industry

Mad Cow disease was recently discovered in a California dairy cow.
Mad Cow disease was recently discovered in a California dairy cow.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Only the fourth cow ever diagnosed with Mad Cow disease in the United States unfortunately turned up in California. The BSE-afflicted bovine was, however, a dairy cow, not a beast destined for the barbecue grill. You can't get Mad Cow, or the human version in any case, from drinking the milk of a Mad Cow. Consuming beef poses some risk, more so if that meat has come into contact with the really dangerous stuff, such as the mad brain, mad spine, or mad digestive tract. 

Despite the assumed safety of Mad Cow milk (which would be exceptionally rare no matter what), this discovery is bound to do some damage to the California dairy industry. Which, as you may not know, is HUGE.

How huge?

This huge (data are from the California Milk Advisory Board):

• California has been the nation’s leading dairy state since 1993, when it surpassed Wisconsin in milk production. California is ranked first in the U.S. in the production of total milk, butter, ice cream, yogurt, nonfat dry milk, and whey protein concentrate. California is second in cheese production.

• California leads the nation in total milk production. In 2010, California produced 40.4 billion pounds of milk – more than one-fifth of the nation’s total production.

• Dairy farming is a leading agricultural commodity in California, producing $5.9 billion in annual sales in 2010. 

• Currently there are more than 1,620 California dairy family farms that house 1.75 million milk cows. Approximately one out of every five dairy cows in the U.S. lives in California.

• The average California dairy cow produced 23,025 pounds of milk in 2010.

• According to the most recent data, 35 percent of the total U.S. exports of dairy products were coming from California in 2008.

It's probably not a fair comparison, but the California dairy business makes more money annually than BlackBerry maker Research in Motion does these days. What Texas is to the beef industry, California is to dairy. So although milk-drinkers have seemingly no reason to panic, the dairy farmers of California might.

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