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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Agriculture Department said yesterday, in the wake of the discovery of a second case of mad cow disease in Canada, that it believed Canadian beef was safe and that the new case wouldn’t alter its plans to reopen its borders to Canadian cattle less than 30 months of age starting March 7.
Congress, which must approve the plan during the next two months, is sure to hear opposition from certain groups, among them the U.S. rancher organization R-CALF, which believes such imports would jeopardize the American food supply.
Canada is a nation with “minimal risk” for mad cow, Ron DeHaven, head of the USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, wrote in an e-mail, adding that protective measures by Canada and the United States “provide the utmost protections to U.S. consumers and livestock.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has quarantined a farm in the province of Alberta to look for cattle connected to Canada’s second case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Officials said they were using records to trace the most recently infected cow’s calf, as well as other cattle that may have ingested the same contaminated feed years ago. The carcass of the infected cow will be kept for research. It had not yet been decided whether to kill and test any other livestock, but officials said they might have more information in 24 to 36 hours.
Canada's first case of BSE was discovered in May 2003, and the sole American case to date, discovered in December 2003, was ultimately traced back to Canada. All three animals were born before a 1997 North American ban on feeding cattle protein made from cattle, sheep, and other ruminant livestock, a practice believed to spread BSE.
Last year Canada tested approximately 22,000 old and sick animals for mad cow disease, and intends to test 30,000 in 2005, which it says can detect one diseased cow out of 1 million healthy animals.
But the United States’ plan to lift its ban on Canadian cattle means the new case could throw a monkey wrench into U.S. negotiations with Japan and other countries that no longer import American beef, according to analysts.