- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday that meat from a cow infected with mad cow disease was sent to four additional states and Guam.

The disclosure roughly doubles the area in the West where the meat is being recalled.

Agriculture Department officials also said they are considering changing their screening procedures for other infected cattle.

Japan, the top importer of American beef, and more than two dozen other countries have stopped U.S. beef imports. Jordan joined the list yesterday. U.S. beef-industry officials estimated this week that they have lost 90 percent of their export market. Ranchers export 10 percent of the beef they produce.

U.S. agriculture officials arrived yesterday in Japan to discuss maintaining beef trade.

Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an Agriculture Department veterinarian, said, “The recalled beef represents an essentially zero risk to consumers.”

USDA investigators said some of the meat from the cow slaughtered Dec. 9 went to Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana and Guam. Earlier, they said most of the meat went to Washington and Oregon, with lesser amounts to California and Nevada, for distribution to consumers.

Dr. Petersen said the cattle parts most likely to carry infection — the brain, spinal cord and lower intestine — were removed at a slaughterhouse in the state of Washington before the meat was processed for human consumption.

Most of the meat from the infected cow has been located and recalled, he said.

Dr. Petersen would not rule out the concern that some of the meat might have been eaten by grocery store customers.

A spot check of grocery stores in the D.C. area showed no drop in beef sales.

“Sales are pretty good,” said a meat department worker at one grocery store chain, who asked not to be named. He said “one or two” customers asked about mad cow disease, but their buying habits so far are unchanged.

No meat suspected of being infected with mad cow disease is known to have entered the Eastern United States.

The USDA recalled about 10,000 pounds of meat from the infected cow and from 19 other cows slaughtered Dec. 9 at Vern’s Moses Lake Meat Co., in Moses Lake, Wash.

The meat-recovery effort is continuing, Dr. Petersen said during a news conference yesterday.

The infected Holstein cow was deboned at Midway Meats in Centralia, Wash., and the meat sent Dec. 12 to two other plants, Willamette Valley Meat and Interstate Meat, both near Portland, Ore.

Much of the meat is being held at those facilities.

The Willamette Valley Meat plant received beef trimmings, which includes the kind of ground beef used to make hamburgers, Dr. Petersen said. The trimmings were sold to about three dozen small Asian and Mexican facilities in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.

Supermarket chains in the West, such as Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and WinCo Foods, are removing ground beef from their store shelves. Safeway plans to find another supplier.

Mad cow disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, can cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans who eat the meat of infected cattle. The disease affects neurons of the central nervous system and leads to paralysis and death.

In Britain, 143 persons died of it after an outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, the USDA’s chief veterinarian, said investigators tentatively traced the first U.S. cow with mad cow disease to Alberta, Canada, where a case of the disease was discovered in May.

However, Dr. DeHaven said U.S. records describing the animal’s history do not match Canadian records. Canadian officials said it was too early to conclude the cow was imported from Alberta.

The USDA is conducting DNA tests to resolve the issue.

Canadian records show the cow had two calves before it was exported to the United States. The U.S. documents classified the animal as a heifer when it arrived, meaning it never had calves.

Also, according to Canadian documents, the diseased cow was 6 years old. U.S. records say the cow was 4 years old.

The cow’s age is important to determine whether it was born before the United States and Canada banned feed that could carry the infection in 1997.

“Our investigation today will be focusing on the tracing of the other 73 head of cattle that came into the United States or appear to have come into the United States with the indexed or positive cow,” Dr. DeHaven said.

Thousands of cattle are imported each year from Canada, according to Agriculture Department records. Dr. DeHaven said the investigation might expand to other imported cattle.

“I think that will be given all due consideration at the appropriate time,” he said.

Cattle can acquire mad cow disease by eating feed containing tissue from the spine or brain of an infected animal. Farmers used the feed to fatten their cattle before selling them.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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