The U.S. Agriculture Department may
need up to two weeks to determine if a suspect older animal was
infected with mad cow disease, the department's chief
veterinarian told Reuters on Saturday.
John Clifford, the USDA's top veterinarian, said tests will
be carried out at the USDA laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and at an
internationally known facility in Weybridge, England, to
determine if the animal is infected.
The USDA reported late on Friday that an animal tested
positive for the brain-wasting disease, reigniting fears that
foreign countries would shun U.S. beef again.
Demonstrators dump calf feed that they say includes cow blood and slaughterhouse waste into a bin beside a sculpture of a cow at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, Thursday, June 9, 2005. Protesters disapprove of the U.S.' mad cow screening program and its regulations regarding the makeup of cattle feed. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said during a a round-table discussion on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus, that his office believes the North American beef supply is safe and that full cattle trade with Canada should be restored. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
The government said the suspect animal, first tested in
November, did not enter the human food or livestock feed supply
because it was unable to walk when delivered for slaughter.
The only confirmed U.S. case of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, was found in December
2003 in a Washington state dairy cow. The discovery halted
billions of dollars worth of American beef exports.
Clifford said USDA scientists were drawing up a detailed
testing plan for the suspect animal. A decision on exactly how
many tests, and what types, was expected by late next week, he
"We want to make sure that everybody agrees on the tests
that should be done," Clifford said in an interview.
A key first step, he said, is for the USDA to conduct
additional analyzes on the animal's remaining brain sample to
ensure that enough tissue was still available for testing in
England. Only 12.5 grams (0.4 ounces) of the animal's brain
remained, he said.
Several tests ranging in sophistication can determine mad
cow disease, and some require a larger amount of brain tissue.
The USDA was mulling whether to wait and make only one
announcement when all the tests were complete, a process that
could take up to two weeks, Clifford said.
Clifford declined to say where the animal was slaughtered
or give details about its sex or breed. "We are not ready to
divulge that information," he said.
FOOD SAFETY CONCERNS
The senior Democrat on the House Appropriations
subcommittee on agriculture, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut,
urged the USDA to implement stronger safeguards to protect
consumers and cattle from mad cow disease.
"The possibility of a second case of mad cow in America
raises concerns over the integrity of our cattle," she said in
USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said department scientists were
already at work.
"We are running it through again to ensure the results,"
Loyd said. "We want to also ensure we send samples to Weybridge
that are adequate enough for them to conduct appropriate
testing that allows for a valid result."
Washington has informed all of its agricultural attaches
with U.S. embassies around the world about the suspect animal.
"Certainly an important part of what we do over the next
few days will be to keep all of our trading partners informed
of our progress," Loyd said.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who announced the
possible mad cow disease on Friday evening, said the incident
should not impact U.S. beef trade. Since becoming chief of the
USDA earlier this year, Johanns has repeatedly said that his
top priority is to restore American beef export trade.
USDA officials have been pressing for resumed purchases of
American beef by Japan and South Korea, which suspended
purchases in December 2003.
Before its ban, Japan was the No. 1 beef market for the
United States, buying $1.4 billion annually. South Korea was
its third-largest market.
The Japanese government agreed in principle in October to
resume beef imports from American cattle aged 20 months or
younger, but insisted shipments would not resume until its
independent commission declared U.S. beef was safe to eat.
Current negotiations with South Korea center on beef from
animals under 30 months.
The USDA said the suspect animal's brain tested positive
for BSE in a rapid, preliminary test in November. When
immediately retested with more sophisticated technology, it was
found free of the disease.
But the USDA's inspector general asked scientists on
Wednesday to retest the animal using a third kind of technology
known as the "Western blot" test. The animal tested positive
late on Friday.
The Western blot test was requested by a consumer group in
February, which said it was the most definitive test available.
© 2005 Reuters) Ltd.