From WSJ Today:
New Mad-Cow Discovery Stirs Fears
First U.S. Incident Since 2006 Makes Cattle Ranchers Fear Impact on Beef Sales .
By BILL TOMSON, IAN BERRY and MARSHALL ECKBLAD
The U.S. Agriculture Department said Tuesday that a California dairy cow tested positive for mad-cow disease, the first appearance of the brain-wasting illness in the U.S. since 2006.
Agency officials said the finding didn't pose any immediate threat to the safety of the food supply. They said no meat from the animal had entered the food chain, and that people aren't at risk of contracting the disease through consumption of milk from an infected cow.
But the discovery of the sick cow's carcass at a rendering plant revived a top safety concern for the beef industry that had receded after six years without any appearance by the illness in the U.S. It is the fourth case of mad-cow disease detected in the U.S. since the first was discovered at a processor in Washington state in 2003.
The finding comes as the beef industry struggles with softer demand as consumers have pushed back against rising beef prices. Recent publicity about a two-decade-old ground beef additive known as lean finely textured beef—dubbed "pink slime" by critics—has further curbed beef demand though the product poses no known safety risks.
"It's the last thing we need," said cattle rancher Daniel Mushrush, part-owner of Mushrush Ranches in Strong City, Kan. "It's not going to help demand at a time when we need demand."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday said it has confirmed the first new case of mad-cow disease since 2006 in a California dairy cow. Janet Adamy and Leslie Josephs have details on The News Hub. Photo: Bloomberg.
Mad-cow disease, also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, can cause a rare brain disease in people who eat infected cattle products. The human form of the disease has been linked to more than 100 deaths, mostly in Britain and Europe.
Agriculture Department officials said the cow was discovered through the agency's continuing surveillance system for the disease, under which it tests about 40,000 cows a year.
The disease was detected on a cow carcass taken in for rendering last Wednesday at an animal-rendering plant in Hanford, Calif., said Dennis Luckey, executive vice president of Baker Commodities Inc., a Los Angeles-based processor of animal byproducts that operates the facility.
Mr. Luckey said the cow had died at a dairy he couldn't immediately identify, saying that information was in the hands of the USDA. The plant renders cows that have died to make commodities such as "high-protein ingredients for poultry feed and pet food," according to Baker's website. Mr. Luckey said he believed that the detection of mad-cow disease by random sampling of animals adequately safeguarded the public.
Asian countries react to the case of mad cow disease in the U.S. Video: Reuters
"The protection is we hold animals we test and quarantine them until we get the results," Mr. Luckey said, adding that Baker Commodities learned the animal had the disease Tuesday. He said the company was keeping the carcass in quarantine pending instructions from USDA officials on how to dispose of it.
USDA officials said the animal never was presented for slaughter for human consumption. Dairy cows commonly are slaughtered for their meat after their milk-producing years end.
Mad-cow disease is most commonly spread in herds through contaminated feed, but USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford said that wasn't the case with this cow. He called this a rare, "atypical" type of mad-cow disease. Agency officials wouldn't say how they believed the cow got the disease.
Edward Mills, associate professor of dairy and animal science at Pennsylvania State University, said mad-cow experts believe some cases can appear spontaneously, as opposed to occurring after a cow ingests remains of a sick cow used in cattle feed. (The practice of using cow byproducts in cattle feed is now banned.)
Dr. Clifford said studies by the World Health Organization show humans aren't at risk of contracting the disease through milk. The Agriculture Department said it "remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products."
Futures prices for April delivery of cattle on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange fell three cents, or about 2.5%, the maximum allowed by the exchange for one day, to $1.168 a pound.
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Analysts say the biggest risk to the beef market from a confirmed case is if large customers such as Japan and South Korea were to impose a temporary ban, but that such a ban was unlikely since the animal was kept out of the food chain.
South Korea's Agriculture Ministry is looking into the incident, a spokesman said. He declined to say whether the authorities might consider an import ban. South Korea halted U.S. beef imports in 2003 following the first discovery of mad-cow disease in the U.S. It lifted the ban in full in May 2008.
Most importing nations were quick to ban U.S. beef in 2003, and it has taken the U.S. years to persuade those countries to start accepting beef imports again.
In California's Central Valley, some cattlemen were worried the news could hurt sales, especially overseas. "Our main concern is just what it does to the market," said John Harris, chairman and chief executive of Harris Farms, which slaughters about 4,500 cattle a week. "It's frustrating because we know we do everything right."