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Second U.S. case of mad cow possible

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns held a news conference Friday to announce that an animal that was the subject of conflicting earlier findings has tested positive in a more conclusive test. The samples have now been sent to a world-recognized laboratory in Weybridge, England, for confirmation.

Johanns and John Clifford, chief veterinary officer of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, indicated that the agency may not know for up to two more weeks, as testing continues, whether the animal in question definitely had the brain-wasting disease. The test came back as a "weak positive," Clifford says.

The USDA officials were quick to say, however, that the mad-cow "firewalls" worked perfectly. Because the animal was unable to walk when it arrived at the slaughterhouse last fall, it was destroyed and did not enter either the food or the animal-feed chain.

"There is no risk to human health," Johanns said, adding that he planned to have steak for dinner that night.

Johanns did not disclose where the animal was slaughtered, leaving open the possibility that this may be the first case in a U.S.-born animal. The only confirmed U.S. case of the disease, known to scientists as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in December 2003 in a Washington state dairy cow imported from Canada.

Also unknown is the impact of this news on efforts to reopen Japanese and Korean markets to U.S. beef. Dozens of countries closed their borders to imports after the disease was found in the Washington state cow. The discovery cost the American beef industry billions of dollars in exports.

Though the possibility of this second U.S. case actually surfaced last fall, it was only last week, after the USDA's Office of the Inspector General pushed for more testing, that a confirmed case appeared more likely. The most recent test on the suspect brain tissue was done using the Western Blot test, a test widely used in Europe and considered very precise.

Europe had a massive outbreak of mad cow in the 1990s. Mad cow can spread to people who eat infected meat. In Europe, as many as 150 people have died of the human form.

 

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