* USDA says California dairy cow had mad cow disease
* Officials say no threat to humans, did not enter food
* Cow found at rendering plant to be destroyed; cause
* Chicago live cattle futures plunge
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, April 24 U.S. authorities reported
the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in six years on Tuesday
and quickly assured consumers and global importers that meat
from the California dairy cow did not enter the food chain.
John Clifford, the USDA's chief veterinary officer, said the
case was "atypical" and that there was "no cause for alarm" from
the animal. Cows can contract the disease spontaneously in rare
cases and that it cannot be transmitted unless the brain or
spinal tissue is consumed by humans or another animal, according
Mad cow, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, is believed to
cause the deadly brain disease variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob in
humans who eat infected parts from animals with the disease. The
first mad cow case in the United States was in late 2003 and
caused the nation's beef exports to drop by nearly $3 billion
the following year.
There is no evidence that humans can catch it from drinking
the milk of an infected cow. However, fears of a potential
backlash among consumers and big importers of U.S. beef caused
Chicago live cattle futures to drop sharply.
The USDA has begun notifying authorities at the World
Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as well as U.S. trading
partners, but the finding should not affect the nation's beef
exports, Clifford said. The USDA is still tracing the exact life
of the infected animal.
The carcass of the cow, which the USDA said was infected by
an "atypical" form of the disease, is under quarantine and would
be destroyed. The cow, which was found at a rendering plant that
processes diseased or sick animals into non-edible products for
use in things like soap or glue, was not believed to have
contracted the disease by eating contaminated feed, the USDA
"There is really no concern for alarm here with regards to
this animal. Both human health and animal health are protected
with regards to this issue," Clifford told reporters at a
briefing at USDA headquarters.
Ahead of the announcement, rumors of the case pushed live
cattle futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange down by as
much as the 3-cent-per-lb daily limit. But prices pared some
losses after the USDA said the beef had not entered the food
Dennis Luckey, executive vice president of Baker Commodities
Inc, a privately held Los Angeles-based processor of animal
byproducts and used cooking oil, confirmed the carcass was
handled by one of his company's facilities.
The carcass of the dairy cow was brought to the collection
facility in Hanford, California, last Wednesday and a tissue
sample was taken from its brain and sent to the University of
California, Davis. The sample came back inconclusive and was
then sent to USDA facility in Ames, Iowa, and returned on
Tuesday as positive.
"The material is in quarantine now," Luckey said, adding
that Baker Commodities is waiting on direction from USDA on how
to dispose the carcass
The mad cow case comes just as the U.S. beef industry is
trying to recover from fallout over a ground beef filler that
critics called "pink slime". After a wave of unappetizing photos
and reports blanketed the Internet, the nation's leading
retailers pulled the product, leading one producer to idle
several factories and another beef processor to file for
"The impact should not affect exports. Now, I'm not saying
it may or may not, but it should not," Clifford said of the mad
cow case, noting that the United States has been recognized by
authorities as having taken steps to control its risks for the
Beef exports plunged nearly 75 percent in 2004 in the wake
of the first U.S. incident in late-2003, with USDA reporting net
cancellations of beef sales in five out of the first six weeks
following the news. Overall beef exports were 321,967 tonnes in
2004, down from 1.27 million tonnes in the previous year.
Sales would not rebound to more than 1 million tonnes until
2010. The value of U.S. beef exports totaled $809 million in
2004, down from $3.86 billion in 2003, according to the U.S.
Meat Export Federation.
Late on Tuesday, Mexico, a leading market for U.S. beef,
said it had no plans to stop buying it.
Big players in the U.S. beef industry include Tyson Foods
Inc and the U.S. operations of Brazil-based JBS
. Tyson's shares closed up 1.5 percent at $17.93 on
Tuesday, triple the gain of the wider stock market. JBS shares
closed down 0.3 percent in Sao Paolo.
JBS USA said on Tuesday the company was confident U.S. beef
exports, which surged to a record high last year - would not be
affected by this latest case of mad cow disease.
Mad cow, a neurological disease caused by an abnormal form
of a protein called a prion and can damage the central nervous
system of cattle, was first diagnosed in the United Kingdom in
1986, according to the Office of the United States Trade
Representative. Reported cases peaked in peaked at 37,316 in
1992, of which 99.9 percent of which were in the United
The first U.S. case was reported in an animal imported from
Canada in 2003, while other cases were reported in 2005 and
2006, according to the agency.
Scientists said that as the dairy cow had not been eaten by
other animals, there was no risk of the disease being spread.
"There's always been concern that there could potentially be
a spontaneous form of mad cow disease that just arrives and
doesn't get transmitted through feed," George Gray, director of
George Washington University's Center for Risk Science and
"It's not like classic mad cow disease that's transmitted by
animals being exposed to the infectious parts of other animals."