Canada Suspects Case of Mad Cow
Dec. 31--Canadian officials yesterday said they may have discovered the country's second case of mad cow disease, one day after the Bush administration outlined a plan to reopen the U.S. border to imports of Canadian cattle.
The U.S. Agriculture Department said the discovery of a new mad cow case in Canada would not derail plans to restart cattle trade.
"If this animal proves to be positive, it would not alter the implementation of the U.S. rule announced 1/8Wednesday3/8 that recognizes Canada as a minimal-risk region," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Canada reported a case of mad cow in May 2003, prompting the United States to immediately ban cattle and cuts of meat from north of the border.
USDA in August allowed Canada to resume some beef exports, but cattle trade has remained shut down.
The ban angered Canadian ranchers and became a significant political irritant between the countries, prompting President Bush to pledge quick action during a meeting last month with Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials yesterday said the latest mad cow finding is not definitive, though multiple screening tests yielded positive results. Final testing is expected to be completed as soon as tomorrow.
Canadian officials said they first knew of the preliminary test results late Wednesday night, the day of the USDA border-opening announcement.
The Food Inspection Agency normally would not have released preliminary test results. "However, given the unique situation created by the United States' border announcement on December 29 it was decided that the most prudent action would be to publicly announce the available information," the agency said.
The suspect animal, a 10-year-old dairy cow from Alberta, did not enter the food chain, officials said. The cow's age indicates that it contracted the disease before Canada and the United States instituted safeguards to forestall the spread of mad cow among herds.
Mad cow disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is a fatal disorder that attacks the central nervous system of cattle.
It is most readily spread when infected animal parts -- especially nerve tissue, eyes, tonsils and portions of the small intestine -- are ground into feed and eaten by other cattle, a practice banned in North America since 1997.
A form of BSE has infected humans who eat diseased tissue, though no known cases have developed in the United States.
The United States reported its first mad cow case in December 2003, a discovery that disrupted U.S. beef and cattle trade and shut down U.S. exports to markets that had been worth more than $3 billion a year.
The Bush administration is working to resume U.S. beef exports to Japan, South Korea and other major markets that still have bans in place, and sees the regulations on live cattle trade as a step toward setting a scientific standard that would be accepted globally, helping normalize beef trade.
Dr. DeHaven said the rule announced Wednesday, and set to take effect in March, covers any new mad cow cases on the continent. Adequate safeguards are in place to protect animal and human health, he said.
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