- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

U.S. agriculture officials have ended their investigation into the country’s first case of mad cow disease without locating all the animals linked to the lone confirmed diagnosis.

“We feel very confident that the remaining animals, the ones that we were not able to positively identify, represent little risk” to human or animal health, Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said yesterday in a conference call announcing the investigation’s end.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman Dec. 23 disclosed the case of mad cow disease, a fatal brain-wasting disorder formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

The discovery cost the cattle industry foreign markets worth more than $3 billion annually as trade partners banned U.S. beef, and triggered a broad investigation to eliminate the source of the disease and prevent infected animal tissue from entering the food chain.

The sick dairy cow entered the United States from Alberta, Canada, in September 2001 along with 80 members of the same herd. Those animals became the focus of the investigation because they may have shared feed, which is considered the most likely way to spread the disease.

Dr. DeHaven and his team were able to positively identify 29 of the 81, including the infected cow, and may have eliminated others as they quarantined and then killed 255 animals that were either confirmed members of the Alberta herd or could not be ruled out as members of the herd.

All 255 animals tested negative for mad cow disease, Dr. DeHaven said.

The remaining animals may have been slaughtered in the past or may still be alive in other dairy herds, but could not be isolated because paperwork is incomplete or identification tags have fallen off the animals.

“It simply comes down to, we never expected to find all of them. … It’s time to move on from here,” Dr. DeHaven said.

Any remaining animals present little risk because chances they became infected from the feed are limited, and precautions in place to prevent infected tissue from entering the human or animal food chain are adequate, Dr. DeHaven said.

He said 189 cattle operations and about 75,000 animals in Washington state, Oregon and Idaho were investigated for links to the case.

A panel of scientists, named by Miss Veneman, last week recommended the investigation be abandoned and resources be redirected toward surveillance and testing for the disease.

The single cow that tested positive may have been the only animal from the original herd to become infected and survive into maturity, the panel said.

But the scientists warned that other infected animals had probably been imported in the past and other cases of the disease are likely present in the United States.

New measures should be taken to prevent potential contamination of human food, pet food and animal feed, the panel said.

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