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AGRICUTURE REPORT—Mad Cow Disease in America - 2003-12-30

Broadcast: December 30, 2003

This is Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the first case of mad cow disease in the United States. A test seemed to show bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B-S-E, in a cow from Washington state. The next day, a laboratory in Waybridge, England, confirmed the case.

Within hours of the news, Japan, Mexico and South Korea had banned imports of American beef. More than thirty nations have now banned American been imports. The restrictions affect about ninety percent of American beef exports worth about three-thousand-million dollars a year.

American agriculture officials say that the nation’s supply of beef is safe. They note that only the brain and nerve matter from the cow can carry B-S-E. They say infected parts of the cow were not processed for use as food for people.

On Saturday, the top animal doctor for the United States Agriculture Department said the infected cow came from Alberta, Canada. Ron DeHaven said the cow was in a group of seventy-four animals bought from Canada two years ago.But a Canadian official noted that Canada’s records do not match the American ones. He said there was no clear evidence that the infected cow came from Canada.

So far, almost five-thousand kilograms of beef have been seized. American officials have temporarily closed two farms where the infected cow had been kept and where its calf is believed to be.

The situation is harming American beef producers. In May, Canadian officials reported a single case of B-S-E in Alberta. Many nations, including the United States, banned Canadian beef. That ban cost Canada one-million dollars a day.

American beef prices are quickly dropping. An American delegation went to Japan to try to ease fears. Japan has suggested that the United States should expand its B-S-E testing program. Japan tests every cow for the disease.

B-S-E is widely known as mad cow disease. It is caused by deformed proteins called prions. B-S-E spreads when animals eat food containing processed brains or nervous tissue of infected animals.

A form of B-S-E, Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease, infects people. Reports say about one-hundred-fifty people have died from the disease, mostly in Britain, since B-S-E was first identified in nineteen-eighty-six.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Bob Doughty.