Mad cow found in California cattle, industry fears repercussions

The first documented case of mad cow disease in the U.S. since 2006 was found in California and the state's large industry is concerned about customer reactions.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed its discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as mad cow disease, in a dairy cow in central California. It is the fourth such documented case in the United States and the first since 2006.

The Agriculture Department was careful to say that no meat from the cow had entered the nation's food chain.

While the California meat industry trembles, the dairy industry can breathe a sigh of relief, if it dares. Despite the disease being found in a dairy cow, according to the Wall Street Journal, milk products do not pose a hazard to humans.

Chief Veterinarian of the USDA John Clifford is certain that as he said, "Milk is safe." Mr. Clifford says that World Heath Organization studies have demonstrated that drinking milk products do not result in a person contracting mad cow disease.

The L.A. Times reported that the discovery occurred during routine testing conducted by the Agriculture Department that screens approximately 40,000 cows each year.

Raising cattle for beef is a large industry in the state of California, ranking as the fifth largest commodity sold as of 2008. California stands behind only Nebraska, Kansas and Texas and the nation's largest cultivator of beef cattle.

There are about 620,000 beef cows on 11,800 California ranches reports the California Beef Council and ranchers are on edge because of what they know occurred the last time a case of mad cow disease turned up in the United States.

Large international customers for U.S. beef put a temporary ban on purchasing the products. Reuters reported in 2008 on a government study released at that time. It claimed that the U.S. beef industry lost $11 billion during the three-year span of 2004-2006 when major importers of the county's beef products banned them from entering their countries. The first reported case of mad cow disease was confirmed in December 2003.

It took years after the last documented case for countries abroad to trust the U.S. beef supply. Even without a ban, the public perception can be as damaging as a halt to purchases. The Journal reported that if it can be confirmed that no meat from the diseased animal got into the food supply, it would help matters some, but it is difficult to guess about market reactions.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/C Goodwin