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From: TSS ()
Subject: Mad cow probe difficult
Date: March 15, 2006 at 7:48 am PST

Mad cow probe difficult
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
News staff writers
Officials struggled Tuesday to trace the history of a cow in Alabama confirmed with mad cow disease, but cattle markets remained strong amid the uncertainty.

"We're working around the clock on this," said Dr. Tony Frazier, Alabama state veterinarian.

Frazier said two state officials and two federal officials were working at the farm where the cow died and was buried. He said officials may have to exhume the animal's carcass for more testing to verify its age

A private veterinarian euthanized the sick animal and took samples that were sent to the University of Georgia for analysis.

Officials confirmed Monday that the cow was infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease. It was the nation's third case of the brain-wasting disease. Authorities said the two previous cases caused declines in cattle prices, but markets reported Tuesday that prices were stable or even up a little.

Officials stressed that the cow, which was used to produce calves, was not processed for food, and there was no threat to human health.

In addition, the veterinarian who euthanized the cow estimated it to be more than 10 years old, an important point since it would have been born before the 1997 ban on putting ground-up cattle remains in cattle feed - the main method of transmitting mad cow disease. Frazier said authorities are likely to exhume the animal's carcass because a more precise age can be calculated through more analysis of the cow's teeth.

The cow had been on the Alabama farm for less than a year, and investigators were trying to determine where it was before that and learn whether other animals were infected.

Frazier said it was difficult to trace the cow's history, demonstrating the need for a better method of tracking cattle in the United States. "That is an issue for us," he said.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said that burying the cow at the Alabama farm was allowed by state regulations. However, the carcass will likely be disposed in one of the state's two tissue digestors. The machines use a combination of high temperature, high pressure and alkaline treatments to reduce diseased animal tissue to a safe byproduct, Sparks said.

Undisclosed location :

State and federal agriculture officials continued to withhold the location of the farm where the cow died, other than to say it's in Alabama.

"Sooner or later the public needs to trust the government a little bit," Frazier said. "There's no public threat."

Sparks said confidentiality was necessary because it was the only way to get farmers to report diseases.

"What happens if we give this farmer away and the next farmer doesn't call us and we have to hunt for these cases?" Sparks said. "The last thing we need is for folks to go underground, not give us the information we need to protect the public."

Meanwhile, a cattle-breeding authority complained Tuesday about federal agriculture officials telling the press that the sick cow was a Santa Gertrudis breed.

"I'm disappointed that they used the name of the specific breed without knowing that to be positively true," said Howard Tinney, president of Santa Gertrudis Breeders International of Kingsville, Texas.

Tinney, who owns a Santa Gertrudis farm near Hanceville, said it was doubtful that the cow was a purebred Santa Gertrudis. If it were, it would be easy to trace.

"When a calf is born, it's identified, it's registered and every time it changes hands there's a record," he said. "If it had been a purebred animal, we would have already found the answer of where it originated from."

He said all that agriculture officials have to do is call his organization for the records, and they will be supplied immediately. "But no one from the USDA has been in contact."

Mad cow probe difficult
Page 3 of 3
Jim Rogers, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the USDA was told by the cow's owner that it was a Santa Gertrudis breed but had not checked with the organization. He said USDA officials would do so.

In other developments, cattle prices were stable at auctions Tuesday, but some markets reported that the number of cattle being sold appeared to be down slightly because of uncertainty created by the newest case of mad cow disease.

"It probably impacted our numbers," said Billy Younkin of Mid-State Stockyards in Letohatchee. About 800 head had been expected to sell at the auction Tuesday, but only 500 were brought to market, he said. Younkin said some sellers probably stayed home to see how the market would react.

A spokesman for Fort Payne Stockyard said the situation was the same there; prices were strong but the number of cattle brought to market was down slightly.

Food supply safe:

Some cattlemen at Arab Livestock Market Inc. said the press was making too much of the situation and the safeguards in place were protecting the food supply.

"We feel like the system has worked. ... It has caught the problem," said Robbie Gibbs, a cattleman and owner of the market.

"The biggest concern is people are going to lose confidence in the product we're producing," he said. "I feel like we have the safest product in the world."

Eric Green, of the Egypt community in Etowah County, was at the market to sell one cow and five calves. The calves averaged $1.20 a pound, he said. "I was well satisfied with that. I don't believe they took a hit because of the mad cow."

Many cattlemen said they've been through several similar scares.

"It'll cause a little ripple in the market but not enough to amount to anything," said Andrew Chambers, a Holly Pond cattleman who went to the Arab auction to buy a few heifer calves. "I'm more concerned about the bird flu than mad cow."

He turned over his chicken business to his son two months ago.

News staff writer Mary Orndorff contributed to this report.

[EDITORIAL]Mad cow disease in U.S.

The confirmation of a new case of mad cow disease in the United States shows that the country is still vulnerable to the deadly infection. This requires government officials here to review their decision to lift a three-year-old ban on imports of U.S. beef, which had been imposed for the same reason, by the end of this month.

U.S. officials said the cow which tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy was found at a farm in Alabama. They said the cow did not enter the food chain and was destroyed on the spot, and the case should not scare other nations away from American beef.

The U.S. side bases its insistence on the argument that an examination showed the cow is at least 10 years old and that the latest discovery came after the test of 652,000 high-risk animals. That demonstrates the prevalence of BSE in the United States is extremely low and declining, it said.

Korean officials also say that if the cow was born after April 1998, when the United States strengthened anti-mad cow disease measures, including tougher rules on animal feed, it should not affect the plan to resume imports of American beef. The two sides have an agreement which gives Seoul the right to halt imports if a cow that was born after April 1998 in the United States is stricken by the disease.

The latest development may be disappointing to U.S. officials and the American beef industry, but it is rather fortunate, for both the Korean and the U.S. sides, that the report came before the resumption of imports of American beef.

Both the Korean and U.S. sides will first have to get more details about the latest case. However, the fact that the cow was born before the date the United States toughened measures against the disease falls short of convincing consumers about the safety of U.S. beef. Not to be ignored is the fact that it is the third such case reported in the country.

The cases of Japan and Hong Kong, in which authorities re-imposed a ban on American beef for including bones in their shipments, should also offer a lesson to Korean officials. They demonstrate that the previous agreement to allow imports of only meat from cows 30 months old or younger is not without loopholes. The beef import issue may be negotiated as a trade issue, but the protection of public health should not be compromised.



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