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Local grocery stores taking calls from worried meat customers

Calls to the Moses Lake meat company, which this past Wednesday issued a voluntary recall of meat suspected to be tainted with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) are still not answered.

Meanwhile, local grocers are scrambling to assure their customers that their meat supply is safe and not connected with an Oregon distributor of meat originating from the Moses Lake company.

"We do not receive anything from those companies," said Gail Brown, an assistant manager at the Sunnyside Safeway Store. Earlier reports issued by large grocery chains serving the Northwest said they would remove any meat from their counters that was suspected of coming from Portland Interstate Meats, one of the destinations of the Moses Lake company's product.

Brown said the Sunnyside Safeway store had been getting calls from shoppers about any connection with the Oregon company and other meat suppliers. A call to the Sunnyside Food Pavilion was referred to the store's corporate headquarters, which was busy issuing statements saying precautions were being taken to avoid the connection with Portland Interstate Meat.

A store employee at Sunnyside's Valley Market said their meat comes primarily from local processors, but the store's meat buyers don't buy from of those companies, he said.

This morning, the USDA confirmed that BSE disease is what paralyzed a Holstein cow, from the Wavrin family's Sunny Dene Dairy Farm in Mabton.

Early Wednesday morning, as a precaution, Vern's Moses Lake Meats of Moses Lake voluntarily recalled in excess of 10,410 pounds of raw beef that may have been exposed on Dec. 9 to the animal's carcass, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The beef, that was shipped to several businesses in Oregon, is subject to a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) Class II recall classification.

The FSIS Class II health hazard describes situations where there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from the use of the product to humans.

The FSIS designation is due to the extremely low likelihood that the beef being recalled actually contains mad cow infected tissue, which can lead to a disease, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases (CJD) in humans.

Federal officials continue to assure consumers that the mad cow disease presents a low health risk to humans from the food supply.

According to the National Centers for Disease Control, a form of mad cow disease can be contracted by humans if they eat infected beef brain, spinal cord and the distal ileum tissue, which is routinely removed from the rest of the carcass at the time of slaughter in the United States. But there doesn't seem to be a consensus about how much infected meat must be eaten to cause concern. The duration of the illness is said to be as short as 4 to 14 months.

The meat produced at the Moses Lake plant were cuts that would not be expected to be infected or have an adverse public health impact, according to federal officials.

According to United Nation's World Health Organization (WHO) research, CJD and its other form variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a rare and fatal human neurodegenerative condition, resulting from exposure to BSE.

While most cases of the vCJD have occurred in the United Kingdom, worldwide more than 140 cases of CJD have been documented since the first mad cow outbreaks in Europe.

WHO describes CJD symptoms most commonly as forms of depression, progressing to stickiness of the skin in its early stages. Unsteadiness of and difficulty in walking and involuntary movements develop as the illness progresses and by the time of death, patients become completely immobile and mute.

There is currently no available or completely reliable diagnostic test for the human onset of CJD or vCJD to use before the onset of clinical symptoms. Diagnosis, according to WHO research, is confirmed following examination of the brain following death.

. Julia Hart can be contacted at

(509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail her at jhart@eaglenewspapers.com

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