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British lab confirms mad cow disease in Mabton Holstein

Sunnyside feeding operation quarantined

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One of many Holstein cows in the Yakima Valley

A bull calf feeding operation in Sunnyside has been put under a state hold, as the investigation into a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, continues in Mabton, said Dr. Ron DeHaven, Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services at the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and the USDA's chief veterinarian, in a press conference held this morning.

DeHaven also said that on Dec. 25, test results by a British laboratory confirmed the case of mad cow disease.

The bull calf operation is where the BSE infected cow's calf was sent shortly after birth. DeHaven said the calf is in a group of more than 400 bull calves ranging in age from 7 to 14 days old.

Although it has not been proven that BSE can be spread from cow to calf, DeHaven said there has been speculation that calves can be infected by parents.

The other two calves the infected cow gave birth to have also been located. One died shortly after birth and the other was introduced into the 4,000-head Sunny Dene Dairy owned by the Wavrin family of Mabton. Wavrin was the owner of the cow which was found to be infected after it was slaughtered.

Currently, the Mabton dairy and Sunnyside bull feeding cattle operation are the only two cattle operations quarantined, although DeHaven said there is a possibility of quarantining any facility where the infected animal may have been.

Tissue samples were taken from the non-ambulatory animal at the slaughter house and sent to the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, as part of the national procedure for older animals and those animals that aren't walking when slaughtered.

After a preliminary positive result was found, the slides prepared by the National Veterinary Services Lab and additional tissue samples were sent to England for confirmation.

The International Reference Laboratory in Waybridge, England confirmed on Christmas morning preliminary findings that the Holstein cow had the brain-wasting disease. The English lab will also be studying additional infected tissue from the cow, according to DeHaven.

The infected cow was slaughtered Dec. 9 at Vern's Meat in Moses Lake, according to DeHaven. The cow was culled from the herd because of birth injuries.

According to Dr. Kenneth Petersen of the Food and Safety Inspection Service, at the time of the slaughter a veterinarian found that the cow had been hemorrhaging in the pelvic cannel and had an enlarged uterus. At the time there was nothing else to indicate the cow may be infected with BSE.

Since the start of the investigation, Petersen said, the USDA has learned that tissue samples were sent to the Iowa lab on Dec. 9, and were received Dec. 11.

The infected cow, and 19 others slaughtered the same day, was sent to Midway Meats in Chehalis on Dec. 11, where the cows were deboned. Dec. 12 the meat was sent to Willamette Valley Meat in Portland, Ore. and Interstate Meats in Clackamas, Ore.

Petersen said the beef that went to Interstate Meats was ground Dec. 12 into ground beef and beef patties. It was shipped Dec. 13.

Investigators are still looking into the distribution of the meat that went to Willamette Valley Meats.

The USDA has filed a Class 2 recall on 10,000 pounds of beef slaughtered at Vern's Meats Dec. 9.

The recall was sent out Christmas Eve. Petersen expects information on any recovered meat by the start of next week. The tissues, the brain and spinal cord of the infected cow were removed and sent to an inedible processing facility, which investigators are attempting to track down, but DeHaven said the material was not going to re-enter the market for food consumption.

DeHaven said that from slaughter, there was no reason to move up testing of what was determined to be a BSE infected cow.

"It wasn't until Dec. 23 that we had the first confirmed positive test results," he said. "We immediately put together a task force to investigate. We're only in day three of what is going to be a very complicated investigation."

Currently, USDA investigators are seeking the origin of the infected cow, believing that it was infected when Wavrin bought it.

"We do know the infected cow had been bought in October 2001," said DeHaven.

So far, investigators have narrowed the purchase down to either a livestock sale or a purchase from a local dairy finishing farm, where the infected cow's owner purchased more than 100 cows in October 2001.

DeHaven said the finishing farm is owned by an individual and holds heifers from multiple owners, pending placement on a dairy.

He said they are still looking into whether or not the infected cow from Mabton had ties to Canada, where a case of mad cow disease was first found last spring.

"Before the positive BSE case (in Canada) there was a lot of movement of dairy animals to Canada and vice versa," said DeHaven.

Dr. Stephen Sundlof of the federal Food and Drug Administration said there still is the question of where the animal received its contaminated feed.

"Currently, in the state of Washington there are no firms that are not in compliance," said Sundlof, who added he believes the cow was infected when it was bought by Sunny Dene Dairy.

He added that he assumes when the cow was infected there was less than 100 percent compliance with the federal law banning the feeding of ground ruminant to cattle, which is believed to be the primary way mad cow disease is spread.

With the threat of mad cow disease hitting the United States at a time when beef prices are at a record high, the USDA has developed a trade team, which will be leaving for Japan Saturday. The team will be going to discuss the facts of the case in hopes of redeveloping beef trade lines that were severed Dec. 23. According to USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins, in 2002, $1.03 billion worth of beef went to Asia. He said that 32 percent of all beef trade products go to Asian countries.

. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mbrowning@eaglenewspapers.com

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