Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg

‘Atypical’ Mad Cow Disease Found in Alabama Animal

  • Finding is different from ‘classical’ threat, agency says
  • Ailing 11-year-old cow discovered at livestock market

An “atypical” variety of the animal illness known as mad cow disease was found in an 11-year-old Alabama animal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday.

The case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was detected during routine surveillance at a livestock market, the USDA said Tuesday in a statement. The cow was kept from slaughter channels and “at no time” posed a risk to the food supply, the agency said.

The atypical variety differs from “classical” BSE linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people, according to the USDA. In the four previous findings of BSE in the U.S., one case in Washington state in December 2003 was classical, involving a cow brought in from Canada. That roiled global cattle markets and spurred several countries to ban U.S. beef. Earlier this year, China reopened access to U.S. beef imports for the first time since that notorious episode.

Colin Woodall, vice president for government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Washington, said the USDA announcement probably won’t hurt trade with exports unaffected by previous findings of the atypical variety.

“We would not expect any restrictions by our trading partners, but it’s a situation we will watch carefully,” Joe Schuele, a spokesman for the Denver-based U.S. Meat Export Federation, said in a telephone interview. “USMEF would concur with the USDA’s conclusion that an atypical case will not impact the negligible risk status of the U.S. designated by the World Organization for Animal Health.”

Asian Response

South Korea’s agriculture ministry said it will strengthen quarantine measures on U.S. beef starting Wednesday. The country doesn’t import beef from slaughterhouses or meat processors based in Alabama, it said in a statement.

Japan has previously taken measures to prevent the entry of BSE from the U.S. and as this case is atypical, there’s no need to take additional action, Yosuke Yamaki, deputy director at the agriculture ministry’s animal health division, said by phone. China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine didn’t respond to a fax seeking comment.

While the case of classical BSE in 2003 “shocked the world and shut down a big chunk of exports,” the industry has since made changes to ensure that an infected cow would never enter the human food chain, Brett Stuart, a founding parter at Denver-based market researcher Global AgriTrends, said in a telephone interview.

On the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, cattle futures for October delivery fell 1.5 percent to close at $1.16875 a pound. The market settled before the USDA announcement.

In the month of December 2003, the most-active contract plunged 21 percent after the classical case was reported.

— With assistance by Shuping Niu, Aya Takada, and Heesu Lee

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