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Discovery of BSE in Canada puts U.S. food safety infrastructure on alert.

The United States on May 21 placed its farms, feedlots and meat plants under scrutiny, searching yet again for any weak spots that could allow mad cow disease to spread to the country. This was done in response to the discovery in Canada of a cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the technical name for mad cow disease, which destroys the brain and nervous system of animals. The United States has never had a case of mad cow disease.

While top USDA officials sought to reassure American consumers that the risk of mad cow disease was low, the department also said it would not hesitate to take extra steps to prevent mad cow disease if necessary. USDA was examining procedures used in every step of the American beef food chain, from farm pastures where young animals are raised to huge feedlots where they await slaughter to meat processing plants. The United States on May 20 temporarily banned all ruminants -- animals with multiple stomachs, like cattle, goats and sheep -- and ruminant products from Canada.

Canada, facing a potential economic blow from its first case of mad cow disease in a decade, quarantined two more cattle farms May 21 as it tried to trace the origin of the eight-year-old animal diagnosed with the disease. USDA was also investigating if the Canadian cow with BSE was ever in the United States.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman tried to reassure consumers that the food supply was safe, saying she had an American steak on Tuesday night and that she would not hesitate to eat Canadian beef either. "We will work with the Canadian authorities to do as much investigating as possible in this case ...We have a very integrated North American beef market," Veneman said on NBC television. Consumers can be "completely confident in the food supply we have in this country and in the beef supply," she said.

U.S. consumer advocates and farm groups said the USDA should respond to the mad cow incident by quickly implementing new regulations such as country-of-origin food labels and a ban on spinal columns in certain meat processing systems. Tom Buis, lobbyist for the National Fanners Union, said the labels would help keep track of where U.S. meat originates.

Consumer groups also want the USDA to ban the use of spinal columns and neck bones in advanced meat recovery systems, which strip beef from cattle bones. A 2002 USDA survey of 34 meat plants found about 35 percent of beef products derived from these machines contained the animals' spinal cord. The meat industry has previously said that spinal cords from U.S. livestock were probably safe for consumers to eat, but should not be marketed as meat.
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Comment:Discovery of BSE in Canada puts U.S. food safety infrastructure on alert.
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 26, 2003
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