Mad Cow Fear Prompts U.S. to Ban Canada Beef

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - The United States has banned all beef imports from Canada after learning that a single cow in the province of Alberta had bovine spongiform encephalophathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

U.S. officials say the risk of infection from Canadian beef is very low, but the swift and dramatic action underscores the concern about BSE. Beef from infected cattle is believed to cause a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, which is often fatal for humans.

BSE attacks the nervous system of cattle fed protein that came from other ruminants, which are animals that chew their cud and have a multichambered stomach. Scientists do not believe the disease can be spread directly from cow to cow.

On Tuesday the Canadian Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief announced that a cow slaughtered in January because it had symptoms of the disease did indeed have BSE. Vanclief said the remains of the infected cow did not get into the food chain.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman quickly issued the ban on imports and said the U.S. government would send experts to help Canada investigate the finding. The ban extends to all ruminant animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, deer, bison and elk.

Veneman said that after speaking with Canada's Vanclief, she is assured that "all appropriate measures are being taken in what appears to be an isolated case" of BSE.

The U.S. has never had a confirmed case of BSE.

Canada is the United States' largest live cattle supplier and its second largest processed beef supplier. Industry groups report that the United States imported some one million cows and one billion pounds of beef from Canada in 2002. The ban could be a boon to the U.S. beef industry, said Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt, unless beef consumption drops for fear of the disease.

"The consumers are going to have the biggest impact," Hurt said. "If they maintain faith in U.S. beef, this could turn out to be a good thing for our cattle producers."