First mad cow case hits U.S.

After a cow on a Washington state farm tested positive for mad cow disease, the Bush Administration was trying to reassure Americans about the safety of their food supply even as Japan and South Korea banned U.S. beef imports.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 23, 2003


After a cow on a Washington state farm tested positive for mad cow disease, the Bush Administration was trying to reassure Americans about the safety of their food supply even as Japan and South Korea banned U.S. beef imports.

The Holstein is the first suspected appearance of the brain-wasting disease in the United States. A form of mad cow disease can be contracted by humans if they eat infected beef, and possibly through blood transfusions.

There are two ramifications for Tuesday's discovery of mad cow: first, the potential health hazard to both livestock and humans if the disease has spread beyond a single cow, and, second, economic fallout from fear of the disease.

The human form of mad cow disease has killed 143 people in Britain and 10 elsewhere, none in the United States.

A discouraging economic track record has been set both in Europe and Canada, where fear of the disease decimated the cattle industry.

A case of mad cow disease in Canada last May which officials described as a single, isolated incident was devastating economically.

"We remain confident in the safety of our food supply," Ann Veneman said.

But early indicators point to doubts overseas, as Japan and South Korea temporarily banned U.S. beef exports by Tuesday evening.

The farm where the cow lived has been quarantined as officials attempt to trace how the animal got the disease and where its meat might have gone.

"Even though the risk to human health is minimal, we will take all appropriate actions out of an abundance of caution," said Veneman.

Mad cow disease is also known also as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. It eats holes in the brains of cattle. It spread through Europe and Asia a few years ago, prompting massive destruction of herds.

Meanwhile beef producers joined Veneman in insisting that meat in the U.S. is safe. ""There is no risk to consumers based upon the product that came from this animal," said Terry Stokes, chief executive of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, in a public statement.

Officials also said the incident was not terrorist-related.


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