- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

Federal officials quarantined a third Washington state farm as they tried to isolate animals that might have eaten tainted feed that causes mad cow disease. Some or all of the quarantined animals likely will be slaughtered and tested for the fatal illness, officials said yesterday.

The Agriculture Department is tracking 81 cattle that entered the United States in 2001, part of the same herd as the lone dairy cow that last week tested positive for mad cow disease. Ten have been located.

Ron DeHaven, the department’s chief veterinary officer, said yesterday the latest animal was identified on a farm in Mattawa, Wash., which was quarantined. Operations in Mabton, Wash., where the case originated, and Sunnyside, Wash., which purchased a calf from the sick cow, also have been quarantined.

The 81 cattle from Canada, and feed they might have eaten more than six years ago, are the chief lines of inquiry in the ongoing investigation.

“Our interest in finding these cows is not because [mad cow disease] can spread from cow to cow, but because it is possible they may have shared a common feed source when they were young, and therefore potentially would have had a common exposure,” Mr. DeHaven said during a press briefing.

Investigators think the infected dairy cow was born in Canada in early 1997, before a ban was imposed on feed made from parts of cattle and other animals that can carry the disease. Such feed is the main method that mad cow is spread among cattle.

The theory would indicate that measures to prevent mad cow disease in the United States have not failed.

Officials have not tested any quarantined animals for mad cow disease. The government does not have a method of testing live animals.

Mr. DeHaven said officials will decide in the coming days whether to slaughter the animals.

“I think it’s safe to presume that at some point some or all of those animals will need to be sacrificed. We have not yet made that determination,” he said.

Agriculture Department officials are considering slaughtering and testing animals that are unlikely candidates for the disease as they try to reassure the public and trade partners that it is isolated and not a threat to spread.

“It would be disingenuous if I were not to suggest there is also some public perception concerns with other animals that might have been associated with those animals that would be of concern from a scientific standpoint,” Mr. DeHaven said.

Britain slaughtered and burned entire herds in the 1990s as the country grappled with a mad cow outbreak.

The situation is not nearly so dire in the United States. The one mad cow case has shut down overseas markets for U.S. beef worth more than $3 billion, a severe blow for an industry that exports about 10 percent of production, but the domestic appetite for red meat apparently has not diminished.

Hamburger chains, high-end restaurants and supermarkets are reporting steady beef sales.

Prices on cattle futures yesterday rose for the first time since the mad cow discovery was announced on Dec. 23. The spot price for February live cattle rose 0.28 cents to 73.80 cents a pound; March feeder cattle rose 1.27 cents to 80.02 cents a pound.

The Bush administration has taken several steps to assure consumers and try to reopen markets, including a ban on allowing sick or injured cattle into the human food chain. Such “downer” animals are considered potential carriers of mad cow.

Mr. DeHaven said the Agriculture Department is considering measures to ensure that a sufficient number of cattle are screened for mad cow, including paying farmers to submit animals for testing.

Mad cow disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, fatally attacks the central nervous system of cattle. A reported 153 humans, mostly in Britain, who have eaten tissue from infected animals have developed variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain-wasting illness.

USDA officials said muscle cuts of beef, such as steaks and roasts, do not put consumers at risk of contracting the human form of the disease.

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