- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In
what could be the second U.S. case of mad cow disease, an older beef animal
tested positive for the deadly ailment but will undergo another round of
tests at a British laboratory to confirm the results, Agriculture Secretary
Mike Johanns said on Friday.
- The only U.S. confirmed case of mad cow disease, or bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was found in December 2003 in a Washington
state dairy cow. That discovery halted billions of dollars worth of American
beef exports and raised questions about the safety of the U.S. food supply.
- Johanns said the new suspected case involved an older
beef animal which was chosen for testing because it was a "downer"
animal that could not walk when it arrived at the slaughterhouse. The animal's
carcass never entered the human food or livestock feed supply, he said.
- "This animal was a downer animal and did not get
into the food or feed chain. There just is no risk whatsoever," Johanns
told reporters in a hastily called news conference on Friday evening.
- The government refused to disclose any information about
the suspect animal's origin or where it was slaughtered. "It was getting
up in age. It was a beef breed," said John Clifford, chief veterinarian
for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
- It is not unusual to have conflicting test results for
BSE, cattle experts said.
- The USDA said the suspect animal had tested positive
for BSE in a rapid, preliminary test in November. When it was retested
with a more sophisticated technology, the animal was found free of the
- But USDA's Inspector General earlier this week asked
department scientists to retest the suspect animal, and two others, using
yet a third kind of technology known as the "western blot" test.
That test showed the beef animal was infected with the brain-wasting ailment,
- NOT FULLY CONFIRMED YET
- USDA officials said they would send the animal's brain
tissue to an internationally known laboratory in Weybridge, England for
a final, confirmatory test.
- "We have not confirmed a case of BSE in the United
States at this time," said Clifford. "It's going to require additional
testing to determine if this is BSE or not."
- Discovery of the suspect animal comes at a time when
USDA officials have pressed Japan and South Korea to resume purchases of
American beef. Both nations were major buyers of U.S. beef until they suspended
purchases in December 2003.
- "I don't believe this has any impact on our international
trading partners," Johanns said.
- The United States has asked Japan to allow imports of
American beef from cattle under 20 months of age. Scientists believe that
younger animals pose less risk of the disease because it takes several
years to incubate within an animal's nervous system.
- At the same time, the USDA is involved in a lawsuit to
reopen the U.S. border to imports of cattle from Canada, which has confirmed
three domestic cases of mad cow disease.
- On Thursday, Johanns held a public meeting in Minnesota
to make a public case for reopening the border to Canadian animals, which
once accounted for about 1 million cattle slaughtered in the United States
- U.S. meat industry officials say they are being forced
to close plants and lay off workers because they cannot obtain enough cattle
to keep the plants operating efficiently.
- The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said it was
not unusual to have conflicting test results for BSE.
- "Multiple tests can identify BSE. One commonly used
method is the internationally recognized immunohistochemistry test. Another
test commonly used is the Western Blot test," Jim McAdams, president
of the cattle group, said in a statement. "These two types of tests
have returned conflicting results on this sample."
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