- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Canadian officials yesterday announced the first case of mad cow disease in North America in a decade, prompting the United States to immediately ban red meat and livestock imported from Canada.

Mad cow disease, officially called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is a chronic, degenerative disorder that attacks the central nervous system of cattle. It has been linked to a brain-wasting disease in humans.

“Information suggests that risk to human health and the possibility of transmission to animals in the United States is very low,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said yesterday in announcing the ban.

Nevertheless, the U.S. border was closed to live and processed cattle, sheep and goats from Canada, shutting off the most important foreign market for the country’s ranchers.

Last year, Canada exported $1.1 billion in cattle and $1.9 billion in red meat to the United States, according to U.S. Agriculture Department figures.

A single diseased cow from a ranch in northern Alberta, Canada’s biggest cattle-producing province, was slaughtered Jan. 31 and definitively tested yesterday.

Provincial and federal agriculture officials said the animal did not enter the food chain.

The 150-head herd from which the cow originated was quarantined and will be destroyed. The animal’s origin is being investigated, Canadian officials said.

“It is certainly too early to determine the exact cause and extent of the disease,” said Lyle Vanclief, Canada’s agriculture and “agri-foods” minister.

He played down any spread of the disease, emphasizing Canada’s thorough testing process and noting that only a single case had been discovered.

“This is a case of one cow in over 3.5 million slaughtered per year in Canada,” Mr. Vanclief said, adding that his country’s inspection system worked properly to identify and eliminate the BSE threat.

Canadian officials would not release the exact location or name of the ranch.

The measures imposed by the United States were not entirely unexpected, but Mr. Vanclief said he hoped they would be short-lived.

“We ask our trading partners to exercise some patience as we sort out the details and look for answers,” said Shirley McClellan, Canada’s deputy premier and minister of agriculture, food and rural development.

Mrs. Veneman said the USDA would dispatch a technical team to Canada to assist in the investigation and determination of appropriate trade measures.

Canada was the second-biggest source of U.S. beef imports last year, after Australia, and the biggest source of live cattle, according to the USDA.

In 2002, slightly more than 1 million head of cattle were imported from Canada, as well as about 1 billion pounds of beef, said Terry Stokes, chief executive of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a trade group for U.S. ranchers.

No cases of mad cow disease have been cited in the United States.

Mr. Stokes and U.S. agriculture officials emphasized safeguards against the disease, including regular testing of slaughtered cattle and a ban on animal-based feed that can transmit the disease.

Still, the discovery rippled through stock markets as companies that sell beef to consumers lost value.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s closed down $1.21 to $16.95 and Outback Steakhouse closed down $1.16 to $35.46.

“There are market implications from news of this sort,” Mr. Stokes said. “We do not today know what the long-term impact of this will be,” he said.

Mad cow disease surged in Europe in 2000 and 2001, with reported cases across the continent, including France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

The disease’s spread prompted a consumer backlash against beef in Europe, and the United States and other nations banned European beef.

McDonald’s European sales suffered because of the scare. The company’s fourth-quarter net income for 2000 fell 7 percent from a year earlier.

The disease was first diagnosed in Britain in 1986, and about 95 percent of all cases have occurred there, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It is believed to spread when diseased animals are turned into animal feed, allowing infected tissue into the food chain.

One previous case of the disease was reported in Canada in 1993.

The disease peaked in Britain in 1993, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases.

By 1996, the European Union banned British beef exports. The EU ban was lifted in 1999.

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