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2nd Mad Cow Possible; U.S. Sees 'No Risk'

June 11, 2005|T. Christian Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A second case of mad cow disease may have been found in the U.S., but the animal never entered the food supply, Agriculture Department officials said late Friday.

The animal tested negative on an initial test but positive on a follow-up test, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.

Johanns said the department had ordered a third test at an internationally recognized lab in Weybridge, England, to make a final determination on whether the animal had the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

A variant of the disease can be fatal to humans. But Johanns emphasized that the animal being tested was an older cow that "never got near the food or feed chain."

"This is a situation where the firewalls worked," Johanns said. "We do not have a human health risk here."

Agricultural officials would not say where the cow was from. But Cattle Buyers Weekly, a trade magazine, reported it was from Texas.

One other cow in the U.S. has tested positive for mad cow disease, a Holstein imported from Canada. The case was reported in Washington state in December 2003, and it led more than 50 countries to ban American beef.

Many of the countries have since reopened their markets.

But news of the most recent finding comes at a sensitive time: U.S. trade negotiators are trying to persuade Japan and South Korea to reopen their markets, which accounted for nearly $2.2 billion in trade in 2003.

Johanns said he did not expect the possibility of a second infected animal to hurt the negotiations. Instead, he said, U.S. dedication to determining the extent of mad cow disease in the country should be a positive sign for other nations.

But Steve Kay, publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly, said a confirmed new case of mad cow disease could have serious economic ramifications.

"Should this latest development turn out to produce the U.S. second [mad cow disease] case, I have no doubt that U.S. beef will be delayed getting back into the Japanese market," he said.

The news also coincides with U.S. negotiations to resume importation of Canadian beef, which was banned after two animals in Canada tested positive in January.

The latest round of testing stems from more-stringent rules implemented after the December 2003 mad cow scare to determine the extent of the disease in U.S. cattle.

More than 375,000 animals have been tested, and of those, three tested "inconclusive" on preliminary tests, Agricultural Department officials said. All three tested negative for mad cow disease under further analysis.

However, the department's Office of the Inspector General, an independent watchdog, ordered an additional, different exam.

That third test came back negative for two animals but positive for the third. Johann said he was told of the results only 10 minutes before a 9 p.m. EDT news conference Friday.

The Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian, John Clifford, defended the agency's initial test, saying that it was internationally accepted.

"We are committed to ensuring that we have the right protocols in place -- ones that are solidly grounded in science and consistently followed," Clifford said in a statement. "After we receive additional test results on this animal, we will determine what further steps need to be taken and what changes, if any, are warranted in our surveillance program."

Johanns said he was planning to demonstrate his faith in the safety of U.S. beef at dinner after the news conference Friday.

"There just is no risk whatsoever.... I'm going to enjoy a good steak," he said.

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