Tests show no mad cow, US cattle prices rise
An animal suspected of having mad cow disease was given a clean bill of health in a second round of sophisticated testing, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Tuesday after cattle prices soared in expectation of the news.
The $32 billion American cattle industry nervously awaited the USDA test results for five days, fearing a second U.S. case of the brain-wasting disease.
John Clifford, deputy administrator for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said that federal scientists conducted two final tests on the animal's brain sample. The first test completed on Monday was negative. A second finished on Tuesday was also negative, he said.
"Negative results from both ... tests make us confident that the animal in question is indeed negative for BSE," Clifford said.
The USDA ordered the tests last Thursday after preliminary tests yielded inconclusive results in an animal sent to slaughter. The government refused to identify the animal's age, sex or location.
CATTLE FUTURES RISE
Earlier on Tuesday, live cattle futures rose at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange partly on expectations the final tests would be negative. Cattle futures for December delivery closed up 2.6 cents at 87.25 cents per pound.
Livestock analysts said cattle futures may open 0.50 to 1.50 cents per pound higher on Wednesday in reaction to USDA's news.
Cattle industry officials said they were relieved, but not surprised.
"From the beginning, we knew that the screening tests, while very accurate, were going to have some false positives because of the sensitivity of them," said Chandler Keys, vice president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"It looks like the North American system is robust ... We have no epidemic problem, as the Europeans did," Keys added.
The first confirmed U.S. case of the disease was found last December in a Holstein dairy cow in Washington state. It halted U.S. annual beef exports of $3.8 billion, although several countries have since resumed purchases.
It also prompted the USDA impose more safeguards, including a ban on sick or crippled cattle from use in human food.
Consumer groups urged the Food and Drug Administration to ban cattle spinal cords and brains from feed for pigs, horses and other animals. The FDA has not yet decided on the issue.
"It's clearly a wake-up call, and the fact that it was negative by no means indicates the Bush administration is doing enough," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) urged the USDA to stop announcing inconclusive test results for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the formal name for mad cow disease.
"There is no consumer benefit, but there is a major negative impact on the livestock industry when inconclusive BSE test results are announced," said Randy Patterson, LMA president.
The USDA has done rapid screening tests on more than 121,000 cattle since June as part of stepped-up efforts to detect mad cow disease. Last summer, the agency announced two other animals tested inconclusive in screening tests. Both were found free of mad cow disease in confirmatory tests.