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Despite Case, U.S. Could Claim Mad Cow-Free Status

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  • Pamela Rice
    Despite Case, U.S. Could Claim Mad Cow-Free Status Sat Jan 3, 2003 By Charles Abbott WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite discovery of its first case of mad cow
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2004
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      Despite Case, U.S. Could Claim Mad Cow-Free Status

      Sat Jan 3, 2003

      By Charles Abbott

      WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite discovery of its first case of mad cow
      disease, the United States could still claim to be free of the
      ailment, experts say -- an approach that a consumer group says would
      be a mistake.

      The designation would hinge on whether the infected cow was imported,
      as early evidence suggests.

      Scientists are expected to report early next week if the infected
      Holstein milk cow in Washington state was born in Canada, based on
      two separate DNA tests.

      Two dozen nations stopped importing U.S. beef following the
      discovery. To reassure international and domestic consumers, the Bush
      administration announced new safeguards, including a ban on
      butchering sick or injured cattle for human food.

      "We have the opportunity to preserve our export market," said Michael
      Stumo of the Organization for Competitive Markets, a group that
      supports small farmers.

      It wants the Bush administration to declare the United States
      "provisionally free" of mad cow, also called bovine spongiform
      encephalopathy.

      "That's the whole reason for the losses," he said.

      Standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health say a
      nation can be classified as provisionally free of mad cow when the
      disease is found in imported cattle and authorities are diligent in
      rooting it out and in maintaining safeguards.

      "As you know, we are just one week into the investigation so it is
      too early to say what actions we will be taking in regard to OIE
      status," an Agriculture Department spokeswoman told Reuters, using
      the French abbreviation for the animal health organization.

      That approach would jeopardize the administration's credibility,
      consumer groups said.

      "It would not be a good interpretation from a public health
      standpoint" nor one that Americans would believe, said Caroline Smith
      DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public
      Interest, a consumer group.

      BEST NOT TO BLAME CANADA

      Canada and the United States have a large cattle trade, DeWaal said,
      so blaming Canada would not end the need for U.S. caution. Canada
      reported its first native case of mad cow last May 20 in the same
      province where the Washington state cow may have been born in April
      1997.

      "Now that two cattle have been discovered who probably ate from the
      same feed source, there probably are others. Where those cattle are
      today is anybody's guess," said DeWaal.

      Both animals may have fallen ill because they ate feed contaminated
      with infected remains. U.S. officials are trying to locate 80 head of
      cattle that entered the United States with the infected cow.

      People who eat infected cattle could be at risk of developing variant
      Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (news - web sites), a brain-wasting ailment
      that has killed 130 people, most of them in Britain.

      At the OIE, Alex Thiermann said discussion of how to classify the
      United States was hypothetical until the origin of the infected
      Holstein was known.

      Thiermann, chairman of OIE's standards-setting committee, said by
      telephone from Paris that officials should focus on reducing the risk
      of disease because of the large U.S.-Canada cattle trade.

      Canada usually ships 1 million head to U.S. buyers each year and is
      the fourth largest importer of U.S. beef. It has banned imports of
      U.S. animals older than 30 months.

      International trade expert Paul Drazek said ranking the United States
      as provisionally free of mad cow "is a legitimate question."

      "Any other country would be attempting to make the same claim if it
      could," Drazek said.

      Agriculture Undersecretaries J.B. Penn and Bill Hawks leave for
      Mexico City on Monday to update Mexican officials on the mad cow
      case. A USDA trade team discussed the beef ban with Japan and South
      Korea (news - web sites) early this week.

      Japan, Mexico and South Korea are the leading markets for U.S. beef,
      accounting for $2.1 billion of exports that total $3.2 billion a
      year. All three have stopped imports of U.S. beef.
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