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US Officials Try to Reassure Public About Meat Safety, Following Discovery of Apparent Mad Cow Case - 2003-12-25

U.S. investigators are examining beef shipments following reports of an apparent case of mad cow disease in Washington state. Officials are assuring consumers the U.S. food supply is safe.

Investigators in the northwestern United States were tracking down shipments of meat and beef byproducts from the first suspected U.S. case of mad cow disease. Tuesday, agriculture officials said preliminary tests showed that a cow had tested positive for the degenerative brain illness.

The animal came from a ranch in Washington state, and follow-up tests of the animal's tissue will be conducted in England. Meanwhile, the meat company in Moses Lake, Washington, where the cow was slaughtered has recalled 4,700 kilograms of beef. Inspectors are examining meat products sent to nearby Portland, Oregon.

U.S. officials say the risk to humans is "extremely low," and Washington governor Gary Locke the affected parts of the cow did not enter the food chain.

"The parts of the cow that could spread the disease were in fact separated out, and a sample of that was sent for testing," he explained. "And the other parts, the muscle parts, the meat, that does not carry the disease was then distributed."

U.S. beef exports last year totaled $2.6 billion. Japan, South Korea, and Mexico were the biggest importers of U.S. beef, but now are among at least 10 countries that have banned it.

News of the reported case of mad cow disease sent a shudder through the financial markets, hurting the stocks of fast food companies like McDonald's Corporation.