- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006


A cow in Alabama has tested positive for mad cow disease, the Agriculture Department said yesterday, confirming the third U.S. case of the brain-wasting ailment.

The cow did not enter the food supply for people or animals, officials said. The animal, unable to walk, was killed by a local veterinarian and buried on the farm.

“We remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef,” said the department’s chief veterinarian, Dr. John Clifford.

Authorities said the farm was under an informal quarantine but would not say where it was.

“We will not release this information at this time until we complete our investigation, and that could take a few days,” said Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks.

Federal and state investigators are working to determine where the cow was born and raised and locate its herdmates and offspring. The Alabama cow had spent less than a year at the farm where it died, Dr. Clifford said.

Mr. Sparks said there are no suspect animals on the farm.

The Bush administration was working to reassure Japan and other foreign customers of American beef. Japan halted U.S. beef shipments in January after finding veal cuts with backbone — cuts that are eaten in the U.S. but not in Asia.

Japan was the top customer of American beef until the first U.S. case of mad cow disease prompted a ban it had lifted only recently.

“We would not anticipate that this would impact our ongoing negotiations,” Dr. Clifford said. “Our product is safe. We’ve got a number of interlocking safeguards. And Japan themselves have had 20-plus cases of BSE.”

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. In humans, eating meat products contaminated with BSE has been linked to more than 150 deaths, mostly in Britain, from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and fatal nerve disease.

The first U.S. case of mad cow disease appeared in December 2003 and involved a Canadian-born cow in Washington state. The disease was found again in June in a cow that was born and raised in Texas.

The local veterinarian examined the Alabama cow’s teeth and said the animal was older, “quite possibly upwards of 10 years of age,” Dr. Clifford said. Investigators are working to pinpoint the cow’s age, he said.

The age of the cow is important because the U.S. put safeguards in place nine years ago to prevent the disease from spreading. The U.S. banned ground-up cattle remains from being added to cattle feed in 1997. Eating contaminated feed is the only way cattle are known to contract the disease.

Older animals are more likely to have been exposed to contaminated feed circulating before the 1997 feed ban.

The Agriculture Department’s 95 million head of cattle had been tested.

The department hasn’t decided how many animals to test once surveillance is scaled back but will follow international guidelines, Dr. Clifford said.

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