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Herd linked to mad cow slaughtered

| Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004

WILBUR, Wash. (AP) -- Federal workers using a vacant slaughterhouse in rural eastern Washington killed a herd of calves that included the offspring of a Holstein infected with mad cow disease whose bloodlines were traced to Canada.

The entire herd of 449 bull calves, ranging in age from 1 month to several months, was sedated and given lethal injections Tuesday, Nolan Lemon, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Wednesday.

Agriculture officials had said the herd would have to be killed because the calf born to the sick cow was not tagged and could not be identified. Officials have been unable to rule out the possibility that mad cow disease can be transmitted from mother to calf.

The animals were not to be processed for meat or other products. The carcasses will be buried at a landfill in southern Washington, Lemon said. Robert Nelson, a spokesman at the Washington state Agriculture Department, said a winter storm had delayed moving the carcasses and he expected the move in "a day or two."

Sheriff's cars blocked the snow-covered road leading to the slaughterhouse. A sign outside was covered with a black plastic bag.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Daschle, of South Dakota, and other Democrats announced their support for testing all cattle at slaughter. Daschle acknowledged it might not be immediately feasible because the USDA has yet to adopt tests that can be completed within a day or two. USDA officials have said they are considering more extensive testing.

Daschle also joined with other lawmakers from the Midwest in calling on Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to temporarily close the border to all Canadian beef products.

"We need to get as much information about the safety of products from Canada as we can," Daschle said. "The only way to do that effectively is to shut down the border."

Agriculture officials on Tuesday announced genetic testing had confirmed the infected Holstein was born in Canada. The DNA tests on the cow, one of its offspring and the semen from the cow's sire showed the cow came from a dairy farm in Alberta, said Dr. Ron DeHaven, the Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian.

Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinary officer of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said independent testing from a Canadian lab confirmed the findings.

The results puts new emphasis on Canada's role in the investigation of the outbreak of the brain-wasting disease. The Holstein is the second cow originating in western Canada diagnosed with mad cow disease since May.

Agriculture officials announced the latest mad cow diagnosis Dec. 23, marking the first time the disease has been found in the United States.

The cow, which was slaughtered Dec. 9, had come to the United States from Canada with 80 other cattle two years ago. The herd was dispersed because the previous owner could no longer operate his farm, Evans said.

Both countries have been trying to locate the remaining cattle. U.S. authorities so far have found 10 animals at two Washington farms that remained under quarantine.

Evans also said Canadian records indicate an additional 17 young cows were from the Canadian herd, including a calf by the infected animal that entered the United States later. USDA officials said they still were trying to confirm that information.

The test results mean investigators will intensify their search for the source of infection, most likely from contaminated feed, in Alberta, where both Canadian cows that tested positive for the disease were born.

Officials have said they believe the cows probably were infected as calves because they were born before August 1997, when both countries banned cattle feed that contained parts of cattle, sheep or other cud-chewing animals.

News reports published in Canada have said the herd with the infected Holstein originated at a dairy farm near Leduc, Alberta, about 20 miles south of Edmonton. The area has about 300 dairy farms.

"If there's anything good to come out of this, it's that they banned parts in feed. Anything since then should not be affected," said Rita Kneller, manager of a Leduc company that provides equipment for dairy farms. "We're hopeful that the investigation will show that there are no problems, and everything can resume as it had been."

The U.S. beef industry renewed its call for resumption of international trade in American beef after the announcement. More than 30 countries banned imports of U.S. beef after mad cow disease was diagnosed.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, eats holes in the brains of cattle. The disease is a concern because humans can develop a brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from consuming contaminated beef products.

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