U.S. beef exports threatened by mad cow disease detection
Hours after a confirmed case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as “mad cow” disease, in a Yakima, Wash., Tuesday, a handful of countries placed bans on U.S. beef imports.
These countries so far include Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and Mexico. Others are expected to follow.
The brain-wasting disease may be transmitted to humans by consuming infected beef.
The damage to the U.S. cattle industry could be severe in both domestic and international markets. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, Mexico is the top importer of U.S. beef by volume, handling more than 349,000 tons in 2002. Japan imported $842 million in U.S. beef last year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture urged calm and said it’s taking immediate action to double check the diagnosis and isolate other cattle that may be infected with the disease.
“The animal tested was a downer cow, or non-ambulatory at the time of slaughter, and was identified as part of USDA’s targeted surveillance program,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in a statement. The sample was taken from the cow Dec. 9.
She added that a sample of the infected beef has been flown by U.S. military plane to a laboratory in Weybridge, England, for additional testing.
The infected meat from the cow, however, was processed by Midway Meats in Washington state. USDA is tracking the consumption of the beef.
Since 1990, USDA has increased its surveillance of mad cow disease in the U.S. herd. In fiscal year 2002, USDA tested 19,990 cattle for the disease using a “targeted surveillance approach,” the agency said.
The USDA said its mad-cow disease targeting system is significantly higher than the standards set by the Office International des Epizooties, the standard setting organization for animal health for 162 member countries. Under the international standard, a mad cow-free country would only be required to test only 433 head of cattle a year.
Until now, the U.S. herd has been reported free of mad cow disease. The disease was linked to human infections in the United Kingdom several years ago. The Canadian beef industry suffered from a global ban on its exports earlier this year when the disease was detected in a single cow in Alberta.