- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

The Department of Agriculture confirmed the United States’ second case of mad cow disease yesterday.

“This animal was blocked from entering the food supply because of the fire walls we have in place. Americans have every reason to continue to be confident in the safety of our beef,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.

The agency tested the animal in November and declared it free of the disease, but earlier this month, the USDA’s inspector general noted a series of conflicting results and recommended new tests using an alternative method. A lab in Weybridge, England, analyzed a tissue sample and determined that the animal carried the deadly disease.

Mad cow disease, officially called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, fatally attacks the nervous systems of cattle. It can affect humans who eat infected tissue. It first became widespread in Britain in the 1980s, but few cases have been discovered in North America.

The animal’s exact place of birth has not been determined, USDA said; published reports indicated the animal was headed for slaughter in Texas. The beef cow is believed to be the first U.S.-born animal to test positive for mad cow.

The other animal that tested positive for mad cow in December 2003 in Washington state was a dairy cow imported from Canada.

Both were originally selected for screening because they were unable to walk on their own, which is a symptom of the disease.

The first case all but shut down U.S. export markets, which had purchased 2.52 billion pounds of beef worth $3.14 billion in 2003. That figure tailed off to 461 million pounds and $552 million last year.

Yesterday, the USDA said the diseased, 8-year-old animal was born before the United States instituted regulations meant to stop the spread of the disease through feed. The August 1997 rule prohibited a practice that allowed dead cattle to be ground into feed. Contaminated feed is considered the most common way to transmit the disease and the ban the most effective way to prevent its spread.

Still, Mr. Johanns said he had concerns with the testing process and would order USDA to review and revise its testing methods to include the more comprehensive battery of procedures.

“I want to make sure we continue to give consumers every reason to be confident in the health of our cattle herd,” Mr. Johanns said.

The Bush administration is working hardest to restart exports to Japan, which had been the top export market for U.S. beef exports, followed by Mexico, South Korea and Canada.

The administration also has been tied up in legal battles to re-open the U.S. market to Canadian cattle imports, a process stalled by U.S. ranchers concerned that mad cow disease is more prevalent north of the border.

Mr. Johanns said the United States would continue working with Japan and trying to open the border to Canadian cattle.

The disruptions have hit the meatpacking industry especially hard. But the U.S. appetite for beef has continued unabated, allowing retail sales in 2004 to climb to $79 billion from $70 billion in 2003, according to USDA figures.

Yesterday’s announcement came after cattle futures markets had closed.

“The bottom line for consumers remains the same — your beef is safe,” said Terry Stokes, chief executive of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a trade group for ranchers.

Other agriculture groups were more concerned.

“Regrettably, today’s announcement could have a tremendous negative economic impact for farmers and ranchers,” said Dave Frederickson, president of the National Farmers Union, a group for family farmers.

And the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, another industry group, called for more stringent measures to prevent any possible spread of the disease, including increased testing, strengthening the U.S. feed ban and continued import restrictions.

Since the first case, USDA through a stepped-up program has tested more than 388,000 animals for mad cow disease.

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