The Bush administration says it remains confident the food supply is safe, despite the detection of mad cow disease in a slaughtered dairy cow in Washington state.
Speaking on NBC's Today program, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said, at present, there is no reason to believe that American beef and beef products are unsafe. She said the infected cow's brain and spinal cord have been set aside for testing, thereby isolating from the food supply the animal parts that would pose the greatest risk of transmitting mad cow disease.
"Those parts of the cow were removed, so we do not think there is any risk, or very negligible risk, to human health with this particular incident," said Ms. Veneman. "All scientific evidence would show, based upon what we know about this disease, that muscle cuts, that is the meat of the animal itself, should not cause any risk to human health."
Ms. Veneman added that the dairy farm in question has been quarantined and that all efforts are being made to trace the infected cow's origins.
"Because this is a dairy cow, they are all individually tagged, they have identification numbers, and we should be able to track that cow to where it came from initially," she said.
Secretary Veneman says the infected cow passed through three processing plants before the disease was discovered. She says the Agriculture Department will err on the side of caution with a recall of several thousand kilograms of beef. Already, one Washington State meat company has announced it is voluntarily recalling its beef products.
In the wake of the mad cow discovery, numerous nations have halted beef imports from the United States. The list includes South Korea, Australia and Japan, the world's leading importer of American beef.
Mad cow disease has been blamed for more than 100 human deaths worldwide since its discovery in Britain in 1986.