Possible Case of Mad Cow Surfaces

Times Staff Writer

More stringent tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may have detected a new case of mad cow disease, but agency officials said today they need several more days to analyze the findings.

While the beef industry braced for the possibility of a new mad cow scare, agency officials were cautious in their remarks today, releasing few details or the origin of the possibly tainted meat.

The Agricultural Department’s announcement, coming as the holiday season approaches, noted the cow “did not enter the food or feed chain,” and the nation’s beef supply remains safe.

But further tests were expected over the next four to seven days to show whether the nation’s second case of mad cow disease has been found.

“The inconclusive result does not mean we have found another case of BSE in this country,” said Andrea Morgan, the department’s associate deputy manager. Because of the mixed results, she added, “we are not disclosing details specific to this test at this time.”

The test result announced today could be the first positive finding since the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded their examination into searching for the brain damaging disease formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Those new procedures came in response to the discovery last December of the first case of mad cow disease in the U.S. in a Washington state Holstein. When that finding was announced, cattle markets plummeted as more than 50 countries temporarily banned imports of U.S. beef.

Over concerns stoked by that case, the USDA sharply raised the number of slaughtered animals tested for mad cow disease starting this summer to 220,000 over a 12-18 month period, rising from only 20,000 last year. Roughly, 35 million cattle are butchered annually.

“Inconclusive test results are just what they sound like — inconclusive,” said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, the nation’s largest meatpackers’ trade group. “Regardless of the outcome of this test results, U.S. beef is safe.”