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Canadian Officials Move Quickly to Quash Mad Cow Disease

Aired May 20, 2003 - 19:07   ET


BILL HEMMER, HOST: Mad cow disease striking a little closer to home. It's been discovered now in a cow in Alberta, Canada. The first case in that country since 1993, only the second case on record in Canada.
The cow has been destroyed, the herd quarantined and Canadian officials do not think there is any contaminated beef in the food chain. However, the U.S. tonight, swift action, not taking any chances, all beef imports from Canada are now banned for now.

CDC reporter Kim Trynacity now live in Edmonton, Alberta, with the latest on the cow discovery from earlier tonight. Reaction tonight, Kim, is what there? Good evening.

KIM TRYNACITY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Bill. Well, reaction is swift and decisive as they say, but Alberta is known around the world for its beef and it's a multibillion industry in Canada.

We knew something was up this morning when both the federal and provincial ministers of agriculture held a news conference, and they weren't there to cut a ribbon. They had very grim faces, and they announced that mad cow disease had been discovered in Alberta.

What is not known now is the origin of the cow. It was on the Alberta farm for the last three years, but right now they're doing a trace to determining where exactly that cow came from. It could have come from the United States. It could have come from another ranch somewhere in Canada.

HEMMER: Kim, correct the facts on this one. Was it true that this cow was found and discovered to be sick and ill in January but only recently was diagnosed and if so, why the announcement today?

TRYNACITY: Well, that's right. It was determined in January by a meat inspector, that the beef, the cow was unfit for human consumption, but they didn't know at that time what the problem was. It had pneumonia and it was underweight.

So instead of putting it into the feed chain, they said no, this cow won't go on anyone's dinner table. They sent it to slaughter, went to a rendering plant and kept tissue for investigation. Now because they didn't think it had mad cow, it wasn't high up on the queue so it went down bottom of the priority list.

When they finally got around to that cow a few months later, then they discovered yes, it does have mad cow, but to make sure they sent it off to a national lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba, then on to the U.K. for confirmation. That came this morning.

HEMMER: Kim, the other 149 cows involved here, they've been quarantined. I just want to underline this for us point, any trace in them?

TRYNACITY: They haven't determined that yet. They'll be quarantined and be slaughtered and then we'll do the testing after that, because they can't determine from a live cow if they have mad cow disease. It's only done after the cow has been slaughtered.

So that's the next step. Quarantine, slaughter the animals, then do the testing.

HEMMER: Kim Trynacity in Alberta, CDC. Thanks for the update there. Much appreciated.

TRYNACITY: Thank you.

HEMMER: While the impact this disease has on cattle is disturbing, U.S. health officials say the fact that the infected cow was found is a good sign, trying to reassure American consumers that there is no need to be worried now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This incident shows that the system worked, that we continue to test cattle. This was an older cow that had some disease problems, was not put into the food chain, was quickly taken out and I think it shows that our system of strong surveillance in North America does work and that our food supply is safe.


HEMMER: The human form of mad cow, much more frightening. Dr. Sanjay Gupta here tonight in our studios to talk about the brain- wasting disease, as many people refer to it and how it spreads. What does this come from, in the first place?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, they're not exactly sure. mad cow disease, obviously being the cow form of this. There's also something known as Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease. The name's not that important, but that's the human form of this.

Cows, the symptoms are clearly obvious. They start to stumble. You can see some of the pictures there. The human form of it, obviously, also very dangerous but also very rare. Take a look at the numbers. There are 180,000 plus cases worldwide. That's in the cow.

First diagnosed in 1986 back in England. Bill, you remember 3.7 million cows slaughtered at that time in an effort to stave off this disease. Cases now in 24 countries, Bill. All 24 of those countries not allowed to actually import beef into the United States. Ninety- five percent of the cases in the U.K. That's where it was hardest hit.

The toughest thing about this, incubation period, two to eight years. That's important because you've got to trace the steps back two years ago to find out where this particular disease came from. Was this cow eating a particularly contaminated feed two to eight years ago, and if so how are you going to figure that out? You can see the investigative dilemma.

HEMMER: So listen, if Americans across the country tonight, and Canadians for that matter, too, are going to prepare a steak, perhaps they're going to have a hamburger, are they going to think about this? And if so, what do they need to worry about?

GUPTA: I'm sure they're going to think about this, especially with Memorial Day weekend coming up, a lot of steaks potentially out there. Here's a couple things to keep in mind.

There's a lot of good regulations in place to try and protect beef in this country. One is to actually look at the feed that the cows eat. Two is, as I just mentioned, to actually not import beef from what they call mad cow positive countries, is over 20 of those. And finally, lots of surveillance, Bill. We're talking about beef, ground beef being the most concerned. Steaks really not that big a concern.

But your question is a good one. If you go to the store tonight, will you be able to tell where this beef came from? And the answer is really no. On an individual level you can't tell where this meat came from, but the lots of meat, you know, the whole lots of meat, that they actually tag those, they can figure out where those came from. That's a much more investigative sort of problem.

HEMMER: I had a question to Kim, the reporter up in Alberta, whether or not the other 149 could be infected. How does it pass from one to the other?

GUPTA: Important point. It does not pass from one to the other, per se. This is not foot-and-mouth disease, which is something else people associate with cattle. This is different.

If another cow is infected in this particular herd, it is most likely because they ate the same contaminated feed or they were contaminated in the same way, but probably not from another cow. It doesn't transmit that way in cows, nor does it in humans.

HEMMER: Bottom line tonight, how big of a deal is this right now? One cow, Alberta?

GUPTA: I don't think we're going to see it in the United States. We haven't seen it in the United States ever. I don't think it's going to come as a result of this. I think Canada has staved off, will probably stave this off as they staved off SARS not too long ago. And Canada is getting sort of expert at dealing with these infectious diseases.

But there are just a couple of quick things. You can see the list there. Again, it is a serious disease that affects the central nervous system. The numbers very small. One person per one million every year. In the past 15 years, only about a hundred people. I don't think we're going to see it in this country.

HEMMER: Nice to see you tonight...


HEMMER: ... on the other end of the clock. We'll talk in the next hour. Thank you, Sanjay.


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