* Beef export sales up 8.8 pct despite mad cow finding
* Major importers comfortable with US mad cow safeguards
* Year-to-date export sales up 4.5 pct
By Karl Plume
May 3 (Reuters) - Major importers stepped up their purchases of U.S. beef last week despite the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in California, government data showed on Thursday.
Export sales of fresh, chilled or frozen muscle beef totaled 16,829 tonnes in the week ended April 26, up 8.8 percent from the previous week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
Authorities reported the fourth U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, as the disease is known, on April 24. It was the first occurrence of the brain-wasting disease in the United States in six years.
The muted trade reaction suggested importers felt comfortable with the safeguards enacted since the discovery of the first U.S. case in December 2003.
Beef exports sank 75 percent immediately after the disclosure of the first case as big customers, including top importer Japan, banned U.S. beef. The USDA reported net sales cancellations in five of the first six weeks following the news.
“This was not something out of the blue. We’ve had three others before and, realistically, countries that were going to react have done so before. Their officials are reasonably satisfied with the measures the U.S. takes to deal with the problem,” Dan Vaught of Vaught Futures Insights said.
“The only country that said it was going to ban U.S. beef was Indonesia, but they’re a very small importer,” he said.
Mexico was the top customer last week, buying about 4,000 tonnes, USDA data showed. Japan bought 2,500 tonnes, Egypt 2,400 tonnes, and South Korea and Canada each bought 2,100 tonnes.
U.S. beef export sales in the year to date totaled 359,793 tonnes, up 4.5 percent from the same point in 2011, a year that saw record-large exports, according to the USDA.
Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Dale Hudson