Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US ends mad-cow probe


Eager to put a costly mad-cow crisis behind it, the US has wrap-ped up a probe into the origins of a mad-cow case discovered last December, without locating many of the animals that could have been in contact with the sick heifer.

"Our investigation as of today is now complete," Ron DeHaven, chief veterinarian of the US Department of Agriculture, said on Monday.

He said a total of 255 suspect US cows had been identified in the course of the crisis that erupted on Dec. 23, when a brain sample collected from a cow slaughtered in the northwestern state of Washington tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

All of the suspect cows that came from Washington, Oregon and Idaho states have been culled, and samples taken from their remains have tested negative for BSE, according to DeHaven.

But the probe also had a Canadian track because the sick cow was brought to the US in September 2001 from a farm in Alberta, along with 80 other cattle, according to US officials.

And finding the heifer's former Canadian contacts that could have eaten the same possibly contaminated feed proved to be a far more daunting task.

Inside this Canadian group, investigators have identified 25 so-called "high-risk birth cohorts" that would have been born up to a year before or up to a year after the sick heifer. But only 14 animals of this high-risk group have been actually found, according to officials.

This gap notwithstanding, the department declared that the threat of further spread of mad cow disease in the US was low.

"We feel very confident that the remaining animals, the ones that we were not able to positively identify, represent little risk," DeHaven assured, adding that the US government "never expected to be able to find all of them" anyway.

More than 30 countries have suspended US beef imports in the aftermath of the December outbreak that sent US cattle futures plummeting.

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