WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2003 (ENS):
Nearly five tons of raw beef have been recalled by a
Washington state meat processing firm because the meat
may have been exposed to tissues containing the infectious
agent that causes mad cow disease. On Tuesday, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture announced that a cow in Washington
state has been identified as the first U.S. animal to
have the fatal brain wasting disease.
Verns Moses Lake Meats, a Moses Lake, Washington establishment,
is recalling the 20 carcasses, some 10,410 pounds of
beef. The potentially tainted meat was shipped on from
Verns to Midway Meats in Centralia, Washington and then
on to two other establishments where it was further
processed. Although a hastily assembled team of inspectors
is now scrambling to determine where the infection entered
the animal feed chain, U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA)
officials say this is a Class 2 recall, meaning that
there is only a "remote probability of any health
The tissues of highest infectivity are the brain, the
spinal cord and a part of the intestines called the
distal ileum. These tissues are regularly removed from
the rest of beef carcasses at slaughter.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told reporters today
that because these tissues are removed, the "meat
produced are cuts that would not be expected to be infected
or have an adverse public health impact but are being
recalled out of an abundance of caution."
Mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE), spreads from one animal to another
by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by
protein, such as blood or meat meal, from an infected
animal. Since August 1997, a feed ban has been in place
in the United States that prohibits the feeding of protein
from cattle back to other cattle.
The human form of BSE, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Disease (vCJD), can be transmitted if a human being
consumes BSE infected meat, or possibly through blood
The high-risk material - the brain, spinal cord and
certain parts of the intestines - are the most infective
tissues. Dr. Ken Petersen with the USDA Food Safety
and Inspection Service today told reporters, "Those
tissues did not make their way into the food supply."
Regardless of such assurances, countries around the
world that import U.S. beef have suspended their purchases.
Japan and South Korea, as well as Hong Kong, Taiwan,
Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, and South Africa have suspended
imports of U.S. beef products, Dr. Keith Collins USDA
chief economist, told reporters today.
Mexico, which takes about a fifth of U.S. beef exports,
and Canada, which takes about a tenth of U.S. beef exports,
have not yet suspended trade, although when one case
of BSE was found in Alberta, Canada in May, the United
States banned beef from Canada for six months.
U.S. beef exports for 2002 were worth $2.6 billion,
about 10 percent of all the beef production in the United
States, Dr. Collins said.
The cow found to have BSE was culled from her herd
on a farm in Mabton, Washington on December 9. She was
paralyzed due to apparent complications when she was
calving, and was classified as a "downed"
All downed animals are automatically subject to USDA
inspection at slaughter as standard operating procedure,
and this inspection detected the presence of BSE. There
is no live animal test for BSE, so the diseased animal
could not have been identified while still alive.
The farm involved is a large dairy operation, Veneman
said today. "It involves two premises in Southern
Washington, totaling about 4,000 cows on the two premises."
The entire operation has been quarantined, and no animals
will be permitted to leave either of the two premises,
dead or alive.
A team of state and federal officials assembled overnight
is in the state of Washington investigating the history
of this animal to determine if any others may be infected
on farms where she had lived.
"Much of our investigation right now," Secretary
Veneman said, "is finding all of the premises this
animal could have resided on from the time she was born
until she came to this herd, again, in October of 2001.
She’s been there about two years. She came into
the herd as a two year old animal, calved shortly after
arriving and would have been approximately on her third
calf at the time she was sent to slaughter."
Several Washington state cattle feed mills recently
have been found to be in violation of the 1997 mad cow
disease prevention rules. On July 11, 2003 the FDA filed
a permanent injunction against X-Cel, Feeds Inc., a
Tacoma, Washington company whose officers admitted liability
for failing to comply with the mad cow disease prevention
rule. The firm and officers admitted introducing adulterated
and misbranded animal feeds into interstate commerce
and agreed to implement measures to correct the violations
under the FDA's supervision.
Two cattle feed companies near the Mabton farm have
been in violation of federal regulations meant to prevent
According to the the Food and Drug Administration’s
(FDA) database of animal feed company inspection records,
M & E Seed & Grain Co. Inc, a non-FDA licensed
feed mill located in Prosser, Washington, 13 miles from
Mabton, is a violator of mad cow prevention feed handling
rules. It was last inspected in October 2002, when the
FDA classed the company as needing to take "voluntary
In addition, RTK Producers, an animal feed transporter
located in Moses Lake that handled proteins prohibited
from use in cattle feed was previously listed by the
FDA as being in violation of mad cow prevention rules,
according to a listing on the FDA’s website in
In a letter to the FDA today, Friends of the Earth
requested that all feed handlers in Washington state
that are in violation of mad cow prevention rules, or
that have been in violation in the past, be evaluated
for potential exposure of cattle to prohibited materials.
Through its Safer Food – Safer Farms Program,
Friends of the Earth is working to end factory farming
practices that cause adverse health and environmental
effects. The organization warned on October 10 that
the number of businesses in violation of mad cow rules
had almost tripled since April of 2002.
But Dr. Stephen Sundlof of the Food and Drug Administration
Center for Veterinary Medicine told reporters today
that while at first about 25 percent of the hundreds
of firms that handle protein derived from cattle, sheep
or goats were not in compliance with the 1997 ban, nearly
all companies are now in compliance.
"At that time we had about 75 percent of the firms
were in compliance with our feed ban. Since then, we've
achieved a level of 99 percent compliance," he
"There are 1,826 firms currently that handle this
prohibited material. There are two firms, right now,
that are not in compliance," said Sundlof, who
added that all of these facilities are inspected once
“There is no excuse for cattle feed suppliers
to be in violation of government rules to prevent mad
cow disease,” said Dr. Brent Blackwelder, president
of Friends of the Earth. “The FDA needs to enforce
the law. Until it does, the best way for people to avoid
the risk of mad cow disease is to eat organic, grass
fed beef or beef alternatives.”
Hamburger restaurants across the United States hastened
to assure the public today that their meat products
are safe for human consumption.
"This situation has absolutely no connection whatsoever
to McDonald's or our suppliers," the world's largest
restaurant chain said today in a statement. "McDonald's
has the most experienced, comprehensive and trusted
quality assurance programs in the world. In fact, our
strict safety guidelines absolutely prohibit cows of
this kind to ever enter our supply chain."
Burger King Corporation confirmed that the packers
involved in the discovery of BSE do not supply meat
to Burger King restaurants. Citing "rigorous product
safety procedures" for its suppliers, Burger King
said only whole muscle meat from the forequarters and
flanks of cattle are used in its hamburger products.
Scientists have never linked BSE to muscle meat.
"The identified cow is called a 'downer', or one
that cannot walk," said Tom Mueller, Wendy's president
of North America. "Wendy's has a strict policy
prohibiting the processing of downer cows in our beef
supply. Additionally, our beef supply is not affiliated
with the meat plants where the single cow was detected,"
Many other restaurant chains - Jack-in-the-Box, Checkers,
Sonic, Friendly's and CKE Restaurants which runs Hardee's,
Carl's Jr., Green Burrito, La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill
and Timber Lodge Steakhouse - praised the efforts of
federal agencies to ensure a safe food supply and assured
potential customers that their hamburgers are safe.
Doug Benham, Arby's incoming president and CEO said,
"We believe our guests should continue to eat Arby's
products with confidence. The purchase of downer cattle
for Arby's beef supply is strictly prohibited by the
Arby's system. We obtain certification from each and
every vendor and supplier as to their compliance with
National Cattlemen's Beef Association CEO Terry Stokes
said today, "This case was found in a federally
inspected plant. The central nervous tissue from this
animal, which scientists recognize as the infective
material, did not go into the food supply."
Consumers should continue to eat beef with confidence,
Stokes said. "All scientific studies show that
the BSE infectious agent has never been found in beef
muscle meat or milk and U.S. beef remains safe to eat."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights