Skip to main content International
The Web      Powered by

USDA: Mad cow born before feed bans in place

Officials tracking whereabouts of 81 other animals in herd

A number of nations have banned U.S. beef imports since the case was announced last week.
A number of nations have banned U.S. beef imports since the case was announced last week.

Story Tools

more video VIDEO
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the infected cow was born before feed bans went into effect.
premium content

CNN's Maria Hinojosa details methods used by some farmers to avoid mad cow disease.
premium content

CNN's Elaine Quijano on the beef recall's widening.
premium content

CNN's Chris Huntington on the impact of the issue on the beef industry.
premium content
Washington state

Source: USDA
• Mad cow disease was first reported in the United Kingdom in 1986, peaking in 1993 with almost 1,000 new cases per week. 

• In 1996, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) was detected in humans and linked to the mad cow epidemic. Eating contaminated meat and cattle products is presumed to be the cause.

• Both are fatal brain diseases with unusually long incubation periods, often lasting years.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mayo Clinic
Mad cow disease
Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A cow slaughtered in Washington state may have contracted mad cow disease months before the United States and Canada banned the use of brain and spinal cord tissue in cattle feed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.

The cow's owner checked his records and determined the cow was born in April 1997, two years earlier than U.S. officials originally believed, said Ron DeHaven, the department's chief veterinarian.

In August 1997, the United States and Canada banned the use of brains and spinal cords, the tissues that carry the disease, in animal feed. But authorities have acknowledged that not all cattle owners follow the rules.

"It is a likely explanation as to how this animal would have become infected," DeHaven told reporters.

Mad cow disease, known to scientists as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is a brain-wasting disease that is usually transmitted to cows via contaminated feed and has an incubation period in animals of four to six years.

DeHaven added, "This is the primary, if not the only, means which BSE is spread from animal to animal."

In 1996, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was detected in humans and linked to the disease in animals. Eating contaminated meat and cattle products is presumed to be the cause.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awaits DNA samples from the cow to confirm the animal originated in Canada, DeHaven said earlier Monday.

Locating the cow's birth herd will allow them to track down the herd's other cows to see if they might have eaten the same contaminated feed, DeHaven told CNN.

"The birth herd is the likely location where the animal became infected," DeHaven said.

"We'll want to know what feed that animal had been fed, and even more importantly what other animals were on the farm at that same time that might have consumed the same feed and where are they now?"

DeHaven said investigators hope to use the stricken cow's DNA samples to confirm their preliminary determination that the animal entered the United States from the Canadian province of Alberta in 2001 with a herd of 81 cows. Testing also will trace the history of those other cows. Earlier officials said 73 cows from the herd were being traced.

Investigators have matched the cow's ear tag to a Canadian herd, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it was unclear that the cow was the same one that became sick, or even that the infected animal had come from Canada.

DeHaven denied there was any disagreement between U.S. and Canadian officials on the matter.

Meat traced to 8 states

Between the infected cow's December 9 slaughter and preliminary tests December 22 for the disease, beef from the animal was shipped to eight states and the U.S. territory of Guam, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said.

The department has recalled about 10,000 pounds of beef that originated from Vern's Moses Lake Meat Co. in Moses Lake, Washington, where the infected cow was slaughtered.

The meat was sent to two processing plants in Oregon. Earlier, investigators had traced some meat from there to California, Nevada and other locations in Oregon and Washington.

Ken Petersen, a spokesman for the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said Sunday that meat also was sent to Alaska, Montana, Hawaii and Idaho as well as Guam.

Because the disease is thought to be transmitted by way of banned brain and spinal cord tissue, risk to consumers from the meat is "virtually zero," Petersen said.

"The meat per se, because it did not contain any spinal cord material, we think is a very low risk to consumers," Petersen said, adding that the distribution was limited. The disease is believed to be present only in nervous system tissue.

A number of nations have banned U.S. beef imports since the case was announced last week, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, Mexico and China.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said the case demonstrates the need for creation of a national code to trace tainted meat in case of outbreaks, calling the discovery "a wake-up call." Schumer has introduced a bill that would require processed meat to carry such a tracking code.

"If other cows with mad cow disease were slaughtered, we wouldn't know where to begin looking for people who might have been affected," Schumer said in a written statement Sunday. "With a comprehensive tracking system, we would."

In May, Canada reported its first case of mad cow -- in an 8-year-old beef cow slaughtered in January. That led a number of countries -- including the United States -- to restrict imports of Canadian beef.

The disease first appeared in the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s, and millions of cattle were slaughtered.

A small number of cases of the human form of the disease have been reported worldwide, primarily in the United Kingdom, among people who ate BSE-contaminated meat. At least 100 people have died worldwide, and outbreaks of BSE have led to large declines in beef consumption.

Story Tools
Click Here to try 4 Free Trial Issues of Time! cover
Top Stories
Father guilty of killing 9 of his children
Top Stories
EU 'crisis' after summit failure

On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.