U.S. widens recall of beef

Meat linked to mad cow sent to 8 states and Guam

`An abundance of caution'

Holstein's origin argued

dispute centers on ear tag

December 29, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials said yesterday that a recall of beef products linked to a dairy cow infected with mad cow disease now extends to eight states and Guam, as meat associated with the diseased animal was distributed more widely than investigators first believed.

Agriculture officials said the likelihood that the beef is tainted is slim, because all of the tissues known to be affected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- that from the brain, spinal cord and a part of the intestine -- were removed before the carcass was processed. The recall is being maintained, officials said, "out of an abundance of caution."

"We will continue to verify distribution and control of all products related to the recall," said Dr. Kenneth Petersen, chief veterinary officer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, during a news conference.

Agriculture officials first said that a Dec. 23 beef recall involved only four states: Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. But products from the infected Holstein slaughtered Dec. 9 have been identified in Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho and Guam, Petersen said.

The news came as agriculture officials in the United States and Canada continued to spar over the origins of the infected cow from a dairy farm in Washington state.

On Saturday, officials in Washington said they believed that the diseased animal originated in a herd in Alberta, Canada. Canadian agriculture officials and cattle industry experts immediately said the United States had reacted prematurely when it announced the suspected link to Canada.

"America's Beef: Blame Canada," read a headline in yesterday's Toronto Sun newspaper, reflecting the mood of many Canadians.

There are considerable discrepancies between the positions of U.S. and Canadian officials with regard to the investigation, ranging from the age of the diseased animal to the reliability of methods used to trace its origins.

Federal agriculture officials in Washington are basing their argument that the cow came from Canada on an ear tag that they said came from the infected animal.

But many U.S. experts -- echoing the complaints of Canadian agriculture officials -- said that it is highly unreliable evidence to build a case on.

At issue is a silver-colored metal ear tag recovered from the animal when it was slaughtered Dec. 9. Records match the ear tag number to a herd in Canada, officials said Saturday.

But just three days before that announcement, U.S. officials were saying that records on the diseased animal were terrible and that its place of birth might never be known.

In Washington, federal officials were trying to maintain a diplomatic balancing act: trying not to damage relations with a neighbor to the north while trying to distance the U.S. beef industry from Canada's -- which it has said is the source of the mad cow outbreak -- as they try to placate the more than 30 countries now banning U.S. beef.

"We are not in disagreement with our Canadian counterparts about the data we have received," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief veterinary officer for the Agriculture Department, who said that he continued "to work very well," with Dr. Brian Evans, his Canadian counterpart, who responded to Saturday's announcement by saying that more work had to be done before the United States could definitively confirm that the diseased cow came from Canada.

"The investigation is preliminary," DeHaven said. "Our primary line of inquiry leads back to Canada. Officials on both sides of the border are seeking the truth. If it is U.S. or Canadian origin, we'll let the chips fall where they lie."

Acknowledging that the findings released Saturday were preliminary, DeHaven added: "Here in the United States, we decided it was necessary to provide the public with the information that we have in order to ensure people have accurate and comprehensive information and an accurate overall picture of the situation as we know it."

Canadian officials said that the preliminary tool used to identify the cow thus far, an ear tag, is unreliable because such tags are regularly removed and reattached when cattle are transported, leaving open the possibility that tags could be switched. DeHaven said the tag in question was a small, silver metal ear tag, "intended for use one time."

Officials in both countries are awaiting the results of DNA tests to determine the infected cow's birth date and birthplace. DeHaven said investigators are comparing DNA taken from the diseased animal with DNA from calves in Canada and the United States thought to be its offspring. The DNA is also being compared with semen taken from a bull in Canada believed to have sired the cow.

Saturday's disclosure, some industry experts said, was also probably intended to ease international concerns over U.S. beef. A U.S. trade team, led by David Hegwood, special counsel for trade to the secretary of agriculture, is scheduled to meet today with Japan's Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, in an attempt to persuade officials to reopen Japan's markets to U.S. beef.

Japan, one of several countries that instituted a temporary ban of U.S. beef after the discovery of the diseased cow, is the chief importer of beef from the United States, having imported $854 million worth in 2002, according to USDA officials.

Of the top four importers of U.S. beef -- Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Canada, which, combined, account for 92 percent of U.S. beef exports -- Canada is the only one without a full ban. The country is allowing the importation of boneless beef from U.S. cattle less than 30 months old.

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