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WASHINGTON - Federal officials, unable to determine which calf was born to the first cow diagnosed with mad cow disease in the United States, have announced plans to kill a herd of 450 calves as a precaution against the spread of the illness, AP Online reports.
The bull calves from Sunnyside are scheduled to be slaughtered this week at an undisclosed and unused facility, according to Ron DeHaven, chief veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Officials made the decision to kill all the calves, which range in age from one month to several months in the unidentified herd because the calf born to the sick cow was not tagged and therefore unidentifiable. They say they can't rule out the possibility that mad cow disease could be spread from mother to calf. It has not been disclosed how the dead calves will be disposed of, but officials say the animals' meat will be excluded from the food supply, and that the calves won't be rendered for animal feed or other products.
"This should just continue to instill additional confidence among consumers," said Mary Beth Lang, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture. "The likelihood of any transmission to this calf is very remote. This is an abundance of caution."
The herd is one of three quarantined in Washington state due to a connection to the infected animal, a 6-and-a-half-year-old Holstein dairy cow shipped to the United States from the Canadian province of Alberta in 2001. The other herds include cows that might have come from the same farm. DNA tests to confirm the infected cow's origins are pending. The Sunnyside herd owner will be compensated at fair market value, DeHaven said.
"Taking that number out of the cow supply is not a lot," said John Top, co-owner of the Toppenish Livestock Commission in Central Washington. "I'm sure USDA's intention is to boost confidence in the beef supply. It won't hurt (the beef industry)."
"I'm glad that the USDA is responding openly to the situation and that the decision has been made to ensure consumers of the safety of the beef supply," said Patti Brumbach, executive director of the Washington Beef Commission.
According to officials, contaminated animal feed is the likeliest source of the infection. U.S. and Canadian investigators are still attempting to find the other animals from the Canadian herd and track down the feed eaten by the infected animal to determine if it contained diseased tissue.
Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), destroys the brains of cattle. Humans can contract a brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from eating contaminated beef.
The USDA will not have the calves' brains for tested for BSE, because the disease doesn't normally appear in animals less 30 months of age, DeHaven explained. The disease has an incubation period of up to five years.
According to DeHaven, USDA officials will go to Mexico to address that country's ban on American beef. Mexico is among more than 30 countries that stopped U.S. beef imports last month after scientists discovered the first U.S. case of BSE. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and chairman of the East Asia Subcommittee of Foreign Relations, left yesterday on a trip to Japan, Vietnam and Hong Kong, with the goal of persuading those countries to lift their bans on U.S. beef imports.