Valley ranchers angry over disease in Canada

No cases of mad cow disease have been found in the United States, but a recent case in Canada is too close for comfort for Carson Valley cattlemen.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also know as mad cow disease, was found in a downed cow in Alberta, Canada, May 20. On May 25, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association announced the first test results on the herd in which the infected cow resided at time of slaughter. All 187 head of cattle tested negative for the disease.

"It's almost impossible to contract, but it's nothing to fool around with," said Clarence Burr, owner of Heiss Cattle in Carson Valley. He runs nearly 200 head of cattle and routinely purchases bull semen from Canada for artificial insemination.

"There are so many tests to get it through (the border)," Burr said. "All the i's are dotted and the t's crossed."

Late announcements about the mad cow discovery steam Burr.

"Why the Canadians didn't say something earlier just doesn't make any sense," Burr said.

Burr, who heads up Agricultural District 1 in Carson Valley, said the district members are taking precautions and researching information about the disease.

Last week, a Carson City pet food company voluntarily replaced 1,300 bags of dog food after the Food and Drug Administration said an animal infected with mad cow may have been used in the product.

"It is in the best interest," Burr said.

Western cattlemen associations are working with government officials to ensure a mad cow outbreak doesn't hit the U.S., he added.

"The worst thing to do in our industry is to hide things," Burr said.

Industry officials are certain the Canadian cow discovered with BSE did not enter the food supply chain.

BSE is found only in the central nervous system and not in muscle tissue. The total herd exposed to the BSE cow is being depopulated and tested. Results could take one to two weeks.

The BSE epidemic is thought to have spread through the United Kingdom through distribution of cattle feed made with rendered ruminant protein from infected cows.

"I don't know many people who use meat scraps anymore," Burr said.

This practice is also considered a public health issue and the World Health Organization has requested it be abolished worldwide.

The three safeguards against BSE in the United States, according to industry officials are:

-- Import ban: Live animal and beef ban from any country known with BSE beginning in 1989;

-- Surveillance: In 1990, the U.S. began a surveillance program focusing on animals with the highest risk of neurological disease.

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tested 19,990 cattle for BSE using a targeted surveillance approach designed to test high-risk animals.

-- Feed ban: In 1997, the FDA banned the use of feed supplements containing byproducts, such as meat and bone meal from animals.

Burr said the bottom line is Carson Valley cattlemen are "scared to death" about a BSE outbreak.

"There may be other stuff coming," he said. "We are not immune to terrorist activity."

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