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USDA Tracks Texas Cattle

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USDA Tracks Texas Cattle

Sacramento Bee, July 12, 2005

by Jim Wasserman -- Bee Staff Writer

The federal government is looking for some former herd mates of a Texas cow infected with mad cow disease, planning to test them for the fatal brain-wasting disease.

"We want to see how far we can get with a paper trail on the animals that are no longer on that farm," said Larry Cooper, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

OAS_AD('Button20'); The USDA is trying to trace cows that are roughly the same age as the infected 12-year-old Brahma cross beef cow as well as any of the cow's offspring.

Many scientists believe that mad cow disease is spread through feed containing infected cow or sheep remains. The sick Texas cow and the older cows formerly in the same herd might have eaten contaminated feed before a 1997 U.S. ban on feeding most cattle and sheep remains to cows.

The government said Sunday that 67 older cows that were currently in the same Texas herd had tested negative for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, in a government "rapid test" performed in Ames, Iowa.

Animals tested included those a year older and younger than the 12-year-old infected cow, along with its offspring, Cooper said. Other cows in the herd were not tested, and the USDA has no plans to test them.

The BSE-infected animal arrived dead at a Waco, Texas, pet food manufacturer and did not enter the food supply.

The USDA announcement that the 67 additional cows tested negative cheered Texas ranchers, beef industry representatives and local meat retailers. They said it shows the nation's safeguards work and that eating red meat is not dangerous.

"I think it proves the system is working and that the firewalls are in place to protect consumers and that beef is safe," said Jennifer Whitman, spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Shane Sklar, executive director of the Independent Cattlemen's Association in Texas, described the spotlight on Texas ranches as "traumatic" for ranchers since the second U.S. mad cow case was confirmed June 24. "I think we were pretty optimistic about that being the only animal in this herd, but of course you never know," Sklar said.

Mike Shum, co-owner of the Mad Butcher Meat Co. in Sacramento, said customers have remained loyal and largely unconcerned during recent media attention regarding BSE.

"I don't even pay attention to it anymore," he said. "It's business as usual."

Nonetheless, nine countries have renewed bans against U.S. beef exports following the June announcement, said Lynn Heinze, representative of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The nations include the Philippines, Indonesia, Belize, St. Lucia, Tahiti, Romania, St. Vincent, the Grenadines and Taiwan.

The USDA has lifted its quarantine on the still-unidentified Texas ranch.

In the first case of mad cow disease confirmed in the United States in 2003, the government killed and tested more than 700 head of Washington cattle, determining that no others had BSE.

In order to help track animals during a disease outbreak, the federal government plans to implement a mandatory identification program for farm animals.

Ken Olson, chairman of the Kentucky-based National Institute for Animal Agriculture, said while BSE isn't contagious an ID system still has its benefits.

"For this, obviously, if you want to find herd mates or contemporaries that could be at risk this would facilitate doing that," he said.

Many scientists believe people contract the human form of BSE, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, by eating meat from a BSE-infected cow. The fatal disease has killed more than 150 people, mostly in Britain.

Cooper said Monday that the USDA will pay the Texas rancher market value for the 67 animals it ordered killed for testing. He said the USDA will not identify the ranch because of privacy issues.

"He hasn't done anything wrong and he's been cooperative and done everything he's supposed to do," Cooper said of the rancher.

Sklar said secrecy ensures that ranchers will turn in suspect animals for testing.

"If we knew the name and he had 50,000 reporters at his doorstep, the next guy at the neighboring ranch might think, 'Why might I put myself of risk of that?' "

Cooper said the government's regular testing continues to determine the safety of the U.S. herd. The government has tested more than 406,000 cows since stepped-up testing began June 1, 2004.

About the writer: The Bee's Jim Wasserman can be reached at (916) 321-1102 or [email protected]. - Get the whole story every day - SUBSCRIBE NOW!

To see more of the Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe, go to http://www.sacbee.com

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