US Tries To Ease Consumer
Fears Over Mad Cow
By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday scrambled to ease domestic concerns over mad cow disease, quickly banning Canadian cattle and beef imports after Canada reported its first case in a decade.
News of the mad cow case sent shock waves through the North American food industry and commodity markets. Shares in major hamburger chains like McDonald's Corp. and big beef processor Tyson Foods Inc. fell on Tuesday.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the risk to human health and the possibility of transmission to animals in the United States, where there has never been a reported case, was very low.
"At this time, we see no reason for any consumer to be concerned about the safety of the food supply," she told CNN. "In fact, I intend to eat a steak tonight."
Canada said it had found a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in the western province of Alberta.
The USDA said it has temporarily banned all ruminant and ruminant products from Canada. Ruminants are animals with multiple stomachs like cattle, sheep and goats.
Canada's only other case of mad cow disease was in 1993, but the animal was imported from Britain. Its carcass was destroyed as was its herd.
U.S. consumer groups urged the USDA to quickly impose stronger safeguards to ensure mad cow disease did not enter the food supply.
"This incident only serves to underscore the urgent need for the U.S. to dramatically step up its own food safety testing program and be vigilant about checking for mad cow disease in beef," said Michael Hansen, spokesman for Consumers Union, a consumer advocate group.
Mad cow is a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle. Britain, where the disease was first diagnosed in 1986, destroyed 3.7 million cattle in the 1980s and 1990s because of it.
A rare human form known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is thought to result from consuming contaminated cattle products.
There is no cure for the human form of the disease, which has killed more than 100 people in Britain and Europe.
USDA Undersecretary J.B. Penn said the United States would reopen its borders "fairly soon" if no other cattle tested positive.
Canada is testing the affected Alberta herd and results were expected within 48 hours, Penn said.
Canadian officials were investigating where the infected cow came from. Claude Lavigne, an official with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said it may have been imported or could have been given infected feed.
Shares of McDonald's sank $1.21, or nearly 7 percent, to close at $16.95 on New York Stock Exchange trading, making the stock the top loser in the Dow Jones Industrial Average . Tyson Foods fell 46 cents or nearly 5 percent to $9.01.
At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, U.S. cattle prices were down the daily limit as traders feared beef consumption would drop.
Last year, the U.S. imported more than 1 million cattle and about 1 billion pounds of beef from Canada, U.S. industry officials said. This amounts to less than 5 percent of U.S. cattle slaughter and beef production.



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