First U.S. case of mad cow disease detected in Northwest

| 12/29/2003

The first case of mad cow disease in the United States has been detected in Washington state, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement.

The disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was found recently in Canada. More common in Europe, the illness has led to more than 100 deaths.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman confirmed the case during a news conference.

The secretary told reporters the case involved a Holstein cow. The cow would not have become part of the food supply in any case – it was sick or injured before it tested “presumptively positive” for the illness. In addition, the farm in Washington state where the cow was found has been quarantined.

In a sign of how serious the government is taking the case, Veneman said a laboratory in England is being shipped samples from the cow by military transport for further testing.

The Canadian case involved a cow in the province of Alberta that was slaughtered in January. It led the U.S. government to cut off beef shipments across the U.S.-Canadian border, severely impacting the beef industry – and the truckers who haul the beef.

The American case has already spurred a similar reaction among some of the United States’ trading partners.

The AP reported Dec. 23 that eight nations in Asia have banned American beef imports, and some – including Japan, the No. 1 importer of U.S. beef, and South Korea, the No. 2 importer – will recall what is already on the shelves. By Dec. 24, No. 3 U.S. beef customer Mexico had joined the list of countries exercising a ban.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle, according to the USDA Web site. Worldwide, more than 180,000 cases have been reported since it was first diagnosed in 1986 in Great Britain. More than 95 percent of all mad cow cases have been in that country.

There is no treatment, the USDA said, and all affected cattle die.

The human form of the disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. That illness is thought to be caused by people eating parts of an affected cow such as brain and spinal cord.