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Probe into mad cow disease continues

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One of many Holstein cows in the Yakima Valley

It's been a month since the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, was found in the United States, and in that time well over 600 animals have been killed in the attempts to trace the disease and stop it from spreading.

The infected cow had been part of a Mabton dairy and was sent to slaughter after it was injured giving birth to a bull calf.

A sample of the brain of the downer Holstein, which was unable to walk due to the birthing injuries, was sent to the United States Department of Agriculture lab in Ames, Iowa the beginning of December, where it was tested for BSE. The test results came back positive for the brain-wasting disease two days before Christmas.

Since Dec. 23, recalls on beef have been issued as USDA officials have worked to trace the 81 cows that were imported from Canada along with the infected cow. They have also sought an additional 17 cows that Canadian Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Brian Evans believes are of interest in the case.

Four of the 17 animals have been traced. Three of the cows are in Quincy and one in Boardman, Ore. The Boardman facility is under a hold order to assist USDA officials in the investigation. Officials are still trying to determine if the other 13 cows entered the United States.

So far officials have traced nine of the 81 cows that crossed the border with the infected cow to the Mabton herd where the infected cow was milked prior to slaughter. The cows that were bought with the infected cow, along with 120 other cows, were slaughtered and tested for BSE. All of the test results have come back negative, according to the USDA.

Three cows imported with the infected cow were located by investigators at a facility in Mattawa, where the infected cow was held until it was sold to the Mabton dairy. To date, 39 cows from the Mattawa dairy have been slaughtered and tested. The results have come back on 20 of the animals. All tests that have been completed have come back negative, said USDA officials.

Also killed were about 450 bull calves that were part of a bull calf feeding operation in Sunnyside. The infected cow's calf was sold to the Sunnyside business shortly after birth. When investigators were unable to determine exactly which calf came from the infected cow, they eliminated all the animals, according to officials.

Six of the cows that were imported with the infected cow have been located in Connell and three in Tenino. There have not been any determinations on what will happen to those cows.

Late Thursday (yesterday) it was annouced that another three cows that the USDA were seeking were located on a dairy in Burley, Idaho.

As investigators track down possibly infected animals, there has also been concern about the safety of America's beef industry.

Early on into the investigation of BSE in the United States, U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman announced an immediate ban on sale of brains from cows 30 months and older. Veneman also announced an immediate ban on "downer" cows for human consumption.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has been pushing for banning downer cows being used for human consumption since last year.

"The Downed Animal Protection Act would permanently ban downer cows and other downed animals from our nation's food supply," said Cantwell. "It would codify and expand the USDA's proposed rule and protect consumers and our food supply not for just as long as the Administration feels like, but permanently."

Cantwell said it goes beyond food safety to trade and jobs in Washington state.

"Opening international markets and convincing our trade partners that American beef is safe is an imperative," she said.

She added that there is talk of passing similar legislation in Washington state.

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

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