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From: TSS ()
Subject: US probes possible third case of mad cow disease
Date: March 13, 2006 at 7:48 am PST

US probes possible third case of mad cow disease
Monday, March 13, 2006


The Department of Agriculture is investigating a possible third U.S. case of mad cow disease, officials said, in a possible setback after months of work to reopen beef trade with Japan and South Korea.

Results from two definitive tests on the dead cow will be available in four to seven days. The suspect animal was found when a brain sample yielded an "inconclusive" result in a less-accurate rapid-screening test.

John Clifford, the USDA's chief veterinarian, said there was no risk to public health as the carcass did not enter the food chain. The department did not say where the suspect animal was found or provide other details.

"Consumers ... should not read anything into this result," said the American Meat Institute, a trade group. It said most inconclusive test results had later come out negative.

Americans generally have shrugged off the disease, always fatal in cattle, since it was first discovered in the United States in December 2003. Per-capita consumption of beef has climbed since then and is forecast at 66.9 pounds in 2006.

Japan and South Korea, traditionally two major export customers, have been slow to resume trade despite U.S. assurances that its beef is safe. Japan banned U.S. beef for two years, reopened trade for one month and then suspended it on Jan. 20 when inspectors found forbidden spinal material in a shipment of veal.

If the United States has a new case of mad cow, it will be more difficult to convince Japan to lift its ban, said Jim Robb, economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver, Colorado.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns met his Japanese counterpart on Friday and told him the USDA would next week answer Japan's questions about how the veal was shipped contrary to the rules governing U.S.-Japan beef sales. The USDA said it received the latest test result on Friday night.

South Korea was scheduled to reopen its borders in April to U.S. beef, banned since December 2003, when the first U.S. case was reported in a dairy cow in Washington state.

Jay Truitt of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said the new incident might become an issue in trade talks. "We still believe the United States is one of the lowest-risk places in the world," said Truitt.

U.S. beef exports are forecast at 905 million pounds (411 million kg) this year, down 64 percent from 2003.

Clifford said the latest suspect animal was tested as part of a stepped-up USDA program that targets older cattle or those with possible symptoms of mad cow disease. More than 640,000 cattle have been tested through the program since June 2004.

"This inconclusive result does not mean we have found a new case of BSE," Clifford said in a statement, referring to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the formal name of the disease.

It is believed that humans can contract a similar fatal brain disease by eating contaminated parts from infected cattle. More than 140 people in Britain and Europe have died from the human variation of mad cow disease.

The two major U.S. safeguards against mad cow disease are a 1997 ban on using cattle parts in cattle feed and a requirement for meatpackers to remove from older cattle the brains, spinal cords and other nervous tissue most at risk of carrying the infective agent.

"If it (the suspect animal) was born after the feed ban in the United States, it is a bigger problem," said Robb. "Because it would be harder to say our system is working well."

Both U.S. cases of mad cow disease -- the dairy cow in Washington state and a crossbreed beef cow in Texas in November 2004 -- were in animals born before the feed ban.

Seoul to reconsider imports of US beef if mad cow case confirmed: official

South Korea may again ban imports of U.S. beef if tests confirm a suspected mad cow case in the United States reported over the weekend, a South Korean government official said Monday.

"We are keeping close tabs on the latest mad cow report and will take appropriate actions depending on the results of a more detailed test," said Lee Yang-ho, spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last Saturday that a cow showed signs of the mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a fatal disease that causes progressive neurological degeneration in cattle.

Moreover, evidence indicates that humans may acquire Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) - a rare, degenerative, invariably fatal brain disorder - after consuming BSE-contaminated cattle products.

He said that if the second test comes out positive, South Korea and the U.S. will have to renegotiate everything concerning to an earlier agreement reached between the two sides on reopening the local market to U.S. beef in early 2006, hinting Seoul may halt imports of U.S. beef again.

Seoul halted U.S. beef imports in late 2003 because of a confirmed mad cow case in the United States.

Source: Xinhua

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