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Case of mad cow disease found in Central Valley

April 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
There are reassurances that our food supply is safe. It follows a report that a dairy cow has tested positive for mad cow disease in California. That discovery is having international implications. Two major retailers in South Korea have now halted sales of US beef.

It follows the positive test results of a dairy cow at Baker Commodities in Hanford located in the Central Valley. Mad cow disease affects the brain and there is no cure. As of Tuesday night, the carcass was still in quarantine and the USDA is figuring out what to do next.

It's the first confirmed case of mad cow disease in the US since 2006. The dairy cow was isolated and tested at the Baker Commodities rendering facility, in Hanford. That's about 30 miles from Fresno. The USDA posted a statement Tuesday insisting the cow did not eat contaminated feed and that it was simply a random mutation.

"Our laboratory confirmed the findings and also indicated it was an atypical form of BSE, which is a rare form of the disease," said USDA chief veterinary officer John Clifford, DVM.

When asked if consumers should be worried about getting mad cow disease, Santa Clara County Agriculture Commissioner Kevin O'Day said, "No, they shouldn't."

Agriculture experts say, the dairy cow in question did not enter the food chain and that mad cow disease cannot be passed along through milk.

"We are actually, seriously concerned about this new case," said Elisa Odabashian, the West Coast Director Consumer Reports. She spoke with me via Skype. She worries not enough cows are being tested. "They are going to pat themselves on the back that they found this cow, but there are likely to be lots of other cows out there if they were looking harder."

Odabashian says 40,000 cows of the millions slaughtered are tested. Still, mad cow disease is extremely rare, which may not matter in the public arena. The futures cattle market dropped after Tuesday's findings and the industry plunged in the wake of the 2003 mad cow disease incident.

"The biggest thing was the trade and that affects our prices, because our biggest thing is trade with other countries that are afraid they are going to get something," said Kyle Wolfe, the President of the Santa Clara County Cattlemen's Association.

Consumers had mixed reactions to the latest case.

"I worry about it in general so this is happening. It supports me more reason to buy organic," said San Jose resident Saba Kraja.

"If there were more incidents, I might get a little concerned, but I have great faith in that things will be taken care of," said Milpitas resident Gloria Davis.

There have been three reported human cases of mad cow in the United States, all are believed to have been exposed to the disease outside the US.

In a joint statement released Tuesday night, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, said, "We are following this closely and will work with the USDA and the State of California to ensure that all precautions have been taken."

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