The beef industry was stung by two negative events in the past two months that have left market traders uncertain about their longer-term impacts. 

For now, market participants are taking a cautious approach until consumers more clearly define if they will reduce beef consumption.

"The issue over lean finely textured beef, or LFTB, played badly for cattle producers in early March, and the fourth BSE cow found in the United States was announced on April 24," said Purdue University Extension agricultural economist Chris Hurt.

"Finished cattle prices were about $129 per live hundredweight in early March before these news events but have since declined to about $120."

Hurt said the decline in cash cattle prices has not been as severe as the drop in live cattle futures. At the start of March, June 2012 live cattle futures settled near $128 but declined about $15 to $113 as of April 27.

In a similar manner, the December 2012 live cattle futures have declined by about $12 per hundredweight since the first of March.

"The much larger decease in futures prices as compared to cash prices could be signaling that futures participants have over-responded to the fears of the negative impacts on beef demand of these two negative events," Hurt said.

"There of course can be other explanations, such as the possibility that futures markets were just too bullish on cattle prices in early March. This argument would suggest that the excess optimism had to be taken out of the futures with prices forced to drop more than cash."

Regardless, Hurt said, the recent declines are coming off record-high cattle prices, a situation that often results in a large price correction when the upward momentum is broken.

"Most in the cattle market are cautious," Hurt said. "They are watching cash cattle prices closely for any indications of demand losses. Since LFTB was primarily taken out of hamburger, this should have reduced the supply of beef, specifically hamburger.

“That impact by itself would have increased overall beef prices, assuming demand stayed constant. Of course, demand may have also decreased, and that would have been a price-dampening factor."

Hurt said that many market analysts believe that the discovery of another BSE cow should not have any lasting impact on domestic beef demand because it was atypical (naturally occurring), was only the fourth discovered in the United States, and posed no health risk to humans.