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Mad Cow Case Likely Imported From Canada

Dec. 29, 2003 -- Even though the first case of mad cow disease in the U.S. has now been confirmed, officials stress that the more than 10,000 pounds of meat involved in the subsequent recall pose "virtually no risk" to consumers.

A British laboratory confirmed that the dairy cow that tested positive in early tests for mad cow disease at a Washington state slaughter facility on Dec. 9 was indeed infected with the disease also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

But U.S. officials say new evidence suggests that the infected cow was born in Canada in April 1997 and was likely infected before feed bans enacted in August 1997 prohibited the use of cattle feed containing protein from cows, goats, or sheep.

"Even with the finding of this single cow, the U.S. remains at very low risk," says USDA Chief Veterinary Officer Ron DeHaven, DVM, in a briefing today. "There is no indication that we have the magnitude of problem that Europe has experienced in years past."

New Information on Infected Cow

DeHaven says records show the infected cow was six and a half years old at the time it was slaughtered in Washington. The dairy cow had three calves before its death. One calf died shortly after birth, another was in the same herd, and the third is in a separate herd in Washington.

Officials say all of the offspring are under a hold order by the state of Washington in order to aid in the investigation, not to prevent the spread of the disease.

BSE or mad cow disease is not a contagious disease and is not spread from animal to animal or animal to person. Instead, the main means of transmission is from eating cow products containing infected tissue, such as brain or spinal cord tissue.

"Even though we are following up on these three calves, maternal transmission -- transmission from the cow to her offspring -- is a rare means of transmission, if it occurs at all," says DeHaven. "The calves are on hold orders out of an abundance of caution in order to preserve international confidence that we in fact have the situation well in hand."

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