U.S. Quarantines Calves From Diseased Cow
MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - U.S. agriculture officials said Friday they have quarantined
the offspring of the slaughtered Holstein cow that tested positive
for mad cow disease amid an intensifying search for the stricken cow's
The government was trying to reassure the public about the safety
of the U.S. food supply even as it confronted a wide ban on U.S. beef
by countries that account for 90 percent of American beef exports.
The recall of more than 10,000 pounds of meat from the cow and others
slaughtered Dec. 9 at the same Washington company also was continuing.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush (news -
web sites) will continue to eat beef, adding that the president's
focus "is on the public health aspect of this."
The quarantine, which now includes herds at two Washington farms,
was imposed even though officials said transmission of the disease
from mother to calf is considered unlikely.
One calf is at the same dairy near Mabton, Wash., that was the final
home of the diseased Holstein cow, said Dr. Ronald DeHaven, the Agriculture
Department's chief veterinarian. The other calf is at a bull calf
feeding operation in Sunnyside, Wash., DeHaven said.
A third calf died shortly after birth in 2001, he said.
"The reason for concern with these calves is that even though
it is an unlikely means of spreading the disease, there is the potential
that the infected cow could pass the disease onto its calves,"
he said. No decision has been made on destroying the herds, he said.
The emphasis of the widening investigation is on finding the birth
herd of the cow, since it likely was infected several years ago from
eating contaminated feed, DeHaven said. Scientists say the incubation
period for the disease in cattle is four or five years.
DeHaven called the investigation "a tangled web of possibilities,"
saying the cow's path could lead to other states or Canada.
Tracing the source of the infected cow could take days or weeks, he
noted, adding that Canadian officials worked for several weeks to
locate the birth herd of a cow with brain-wasting disease earlier
"If we're lucky, we could know something in a matter of a day
or two," DeHaven said. However, he added, that it is possible
that officials may never definitively identify the herd or the source
of contaminated feed.
As part of their search, authorities want to know where the animals
were transported. They have narrowed their search to two locations
in Washington state where the cow could have been purchased, an unidentified
livestock market and a farm where weaned calves live until they are
old enough to produce milk.
The cow had lived since 2001 at the Sunny Dene Ranch in Mabton, a
town 40 miles south of Yakima, according to government sources speaking
on condition of anonymity.
Confirmation of the first case of mad-cow disease in the United States
came Thursday from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge,
England. British researchers agreed with the reading of U.S. tests
on the stricken cow that showed it had the brain-wasting disease.
BSE (news - web sites) is caused by a misshapen protein — a prion
— that eats holes in a cow's brain. A total of 153 people worldwide
have been reported to have contracted the human form of the illness,
according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(news - web sites).
Government officials insisted there was no threat to the food supply
because the cow's brain, the spinal cord and the lower part of the
small intestine — where scientists say the disease is found — were
removed before it was sent on for processing.
Humans can contract a fatal variant of mad cow disease by eating
infected beef products, but experts say muscle cuts of beef — including
steaks and roasts — are safe.
Still, many countries banned American beef products after Agriculture
Secretary Ann Veneman first announced a probable case of mad cow disease,
officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, on Tuesday.
USDA chief economist Keith Collins said that 16 countries that account
for 90 percent of U.S. beef exports have barred American beef products.
A U.S. delegation will leave Saturday for Japan and possibly other
Asian countries in an effort to minimize the impact on American beef
producers, DeHaven said. Japan, which has halted U.S. beef imports,
bought $1.03 billion worth of U.S. beef in 2002, about a third of
exports, Collins said.
Japan suffered an outbreak of mad cow disease in 2001. More recently,
it found a 23-month-old cow sick with the illness in October, that
prompted scientists to say testing programs need to be changed.
Currently, the United States tests for the disease in animals 30
months old and older, as well as those that exhibit central nervous
system disorders or are unable to stand or walk on their own.
Agriculture officials have discussed expanding their testing program,
which critics say is insufficient. One proposal would be to test all
cows that get sick and die on a farm, even if mad cow is not suspected.
The Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) has been considering
a proposal to expand a ban on using cattle brain and spinal tissue
— where scientists say infection is most likely to occur — in feed
for cattle, sheep and goats. The proposal would cover all animal feed
and would include pet food.
While officials said they hoped the outbreak would be confined to
a lone cow — which was the case in Canada this year — an expert on
mad cow disease said he would not be surprised to see additional cases.
"You are looking for potential exposure to contaminated feed.
I'm not going to be surprised if there are two, three, four cases,
maybe a dozen or two dozen," said William D. Hueston, a former
USDA official who directs the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety
at the University of Minnesota.