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US cattle markets shaken by suspect mad cow

Written by: Staff

CHICAGO, Apr 14: A possible new case of mad cow disease in Canada rattled the US cattle markets on Thursday because the animal in question was born after a 1997 feed ban that was enacted to prevent the disease.

Investors fretted that the discovery, which could be the fifth native-born case of the brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada, could shake consumer confidence in the 0 billion U.S. beef and cattle production industry.

Canadian officials said earlier Thursday that the suspected case was discovered in a 6-year-old Holstein dairy cow in British Columbia which did not enter the human food chain. Final test results are expected on Sunday.

Officials said the infected cow was born in April 2000, after the Canadian government prohibited cattle from eating feed containing ruminant protein. The ban was put in place by the United States and Canada in 1997.

Since Canadian beef and cattle are shipped into the United States, there were concerns that the finding could affect demand for all beef.

U.S. consumers have continued to buy beef despite three mad cow cases in the United States and four previously confirmed cases in Canada.

''So far domestic demand has not shrunk due to the publicity of mad cow. As we go forward, will that attitude change? I think you are always concerned,'' said Don Roose, analyst with U.S.

Commodities Inc.

The United States Agriculture Department said it has not drawn any conclusions regarding Canada's suspected case.

''Should it be positive, we're prepared to send a team to Canada to help with the epidemiological investigation,'' said Ed Lloyd, USDA spokesman.

Mad cow disease, or BSE, is a fatal brain disease in cattle.

Scientists believe humans can contract a similar fatal disease by eating infected material from contaminated animals.

The disease is not contagious in cattle, but is believed to be spread by feed made from animal parts, called meat and bone meal.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a cattle producers trade group, said Thursday's news should not affect beef trade between the United States and Canada.

''The United States accepts beef and cattle from Canada that is under 30 months of age, which is an internationally recognized age marker for safety because BSE is a condition found in older cattle,'' the NCBA said.

However, R-CALF-USDA, another cattle trade group, argued that Canada's safety measures are not sufficient and that the United States should do more to protect consumers here.

''Already, two Canadian BSE cases born after Canada's feed ban have conclusively proven that Canada's feed ban was not effective in preventing the spread of BSE,'' said Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-CALF USA.

Bullard said the United States should require Canada to close the ''known loopholes.'' It also suggested the United States halt live cattle imports from Canada until the changes are made.

A U.S. consumer group also said more needs to be done.

''The feed ban clearly was not working in Canada. It makes it hard to say the feed ban is your firewall. We've always said these feed bans in the United States and Canada are like picket fences,'' said Michael Hanson of Consumers Union.

At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, live cattle futures, which price cattle destined for processing into beef, were higher early on Thursday, but turned lower after the suspected Canadian case was announced, CME traders said.

Cattle for June delivery closed at 75.275 cents per lb, down 0.375 cent for the day. The contract had peaked Thursday at 76.325 cents.

The American Meat Institute, a meat industry trade group, said eating beef cuts has never been associated with any BSE-related disease.

''Parts of the animal that can pose a risk are removed and do not enter the U.S. or Canadian food supplies. No variant CJD cases have occurred as a result of eating U.S. or Canadian beef products,'' the AMI said in a statement.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or vCJD, is the human form of mad cow disease, which scientists believe can be spread by eating contaminated parts from an infected animal.


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