Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Bush still eating as second herd is quarantined

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The US Agriculture Department on Friday quarantined a second herd of cattle in Washington state in connection with the first US case of mad cow disease, as cattle producers scrambled to minimize damage to the US$27 billion industry.

The cattle industry, reeling from the discovery of the deadly, brain-wasting disease, on Friday withdrew objections to tighter controls that would prevent sick animals from entering the food supply.

White House officials said that the US beef supply is safe for consumers and a spokesman said President George W. Bush continues to eat beef.

The second Washington state herd placed under quarantine brings to 4,400 the number of animals under observation.

With more than two dozen countries banning the import of US beef, including US$1 billion-a-year customer Japan, federal Agriculture Department officials said their probe into the origin of the disease could take months and widen far beyond the dairy farm in Mabton, Washington, where the 4-year-old Holstein was discovered.

In Chicago, cattle futures fell by the maximum allowable amount for the second consecutive day and experts said beef prices could tumble by a further 20 percent and predicted that exports to Japan and other key market would be disrupted well into the new year.

Venezuela and Egypt on Friday joined some two dozen nations that halted imports of US beef. Food company stocks also tumbled as investors worried that US consumers could begin to eat less beef.

The US Agriculture Department on Friday quarantined a second herd of 400 bull calves in Sunnyside, Washington, not far from Mabton, that contains a calf recently born to the original infected Holstein.

The USDA had previously quarantined a 4,000-animal herd at the dairy farm in Mabton, where the infected cow lived before it was slaughtered on Dec. 9. The cow was sent to slaughter after complications from calving left her unable to walk.

The US Cattlemen's Association, the industry's major group, on Friday changed it position on dealing with sick cattle, saying that those that are too sick to walk -- so-called downer animals -- should be tested for mad cow disease before they are slaughtered and processed for consumption.

The animal that came down with the nation's first case of mad cow disease had been made into hamburger and probably eaten before the US Agriculture Department received test results.

Ranchers and farmers now support a "test and hold" program that segregated the carcasses of sick animals from others until testing for mad cow, Terry Stokes, chief executive officer of the The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said.

The cattle industry previously contended that downer cattle pose no clear-cut risk to the human food supply.

A USDA spokeswoman said the department was reviewing all of its existing mad cow safeguards for possible improvements, but declined further comment.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also said it was assessing its rules, with an eye toward possibly banning the use of cattle remains in all animal food.

The US government said it was sending trade experts to Japan, the biggest single buyer of US beef, to begin talks on Monday on how to address that nation's concerns and resume beef shipments.

The investigation to pinpoint how the US cow was infected will take time, said Ron DeHaven, USDA's chief veterinarian.

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