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030529 U.S. Bans Canadian Beef After Mad Cow Discovery

May 21, 2003

The United States banned all imports of cattle, beef and beef products from Canada, after a cow in Alberta tested positive for mad cow disease.

Officials called it an ''isolated case.'' But though only a single cow was diagnosed, the discovery signaled the first real threat of the ravaging disease in North America. The announcement sent shock waves through the $80-billion-a-year beef industry, which fears the same cataclysm that shook the United Kingdom in the 1990s.

The occurrence of the scourge in North America is potentially ''devastating,'' said John Lockie, executive director of R-CALF USA, a national advocacy group for cattle ranchers. ''There's going to be a tsunami tomorrow.''

No cases of mad cow disease have been found in the USA.

The United States is Canada's prime export market for beef. Canada sent 1.7 million heads of live cattle and 373,000 tons of beef product with a value of $2.5 billion to the USA last year.

Also last year, the United States produced 27.1 billion pounds of beef, the largest single sector of U.S. agriculture.

Mad cow disease infects humans as a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which causes paralysis and death. In cattle, it is thought to spread through feed made with protein and bone meal from rendered cattle.

When doctors in Britain realized in 1996 that humans could get the brain-wasting disease from eating infected cattle, sales of beef in the U.K. plunged 40%, exports ceased and beef prices fell more than 25%. The economic loss to the country in the following year is estimated to be $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion.

The infected cow came from a farm in Alberta. It was slaughtered Jan. 31 and the carcass rendered into meat and bone meal, Canadian Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief said. Routine testing Friday turned up a possible risk of mad cow, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The diagnosis was confirmed Tuesday morning.

No meat from the animal entered the human food chain, Vanclief said. Mad cow disease can be spread only by eating infected meat, especially infected brains and spinal cords.

Shares in fast food chains and meat producers and processors plummeted at the news, and cattle prices also fell.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman sought to reassure Americans that the ''risk to human health and the possibility of transmission to animals in the United States is very low. ''I intend to eat a steak tonight,'' Veneman told CNN.


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