Rumors concerning the source of the Washington cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) may be true: The animal could be from Canada.
USDA officials announced Saturday morning that the most positive line of inquiry - they haven't given up on others yet - points to a group of 74 dairy cattle imported in August of 2001. All 74 animals entered the country at East Port, Idaho, and went to a heifer finishing operation in Mattawa, Wash. The infected animal later moved to the Mabton, Wash., operation.
Ron DeHaven, USDA's chief veterinary officer, notes that this news does not confirm the animal's birth herd. "This is preliminary information we received at about Midnight last night and we are still in an ongoing investigation," DeHaven says. "We can say that based on the age of the group of animals most are likely still alive and we are working to track that information down now."
Brian Evans, chief veterinary officer with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was part of today's daily press briefing. He notes that there are discrepancies in the information currently available. The animal with the numbered eartag being used for record searches has a history in Canada.
The animal was originally called a 4-1/2-year old, however USDA noted today the records show the animal could have been born April 1997 - making her at least 6-1/2 years old. Evans notes that the cow could have had two calves in Canada - which is part of the ongoing investigation.
"We have access to the calves in question and we have sire information so it will be possible to conduct DNA tests to confirm if we are talking about the same animal," Evans says. This discrepancy in the age of the index animal will be worked out in a couple of days.
Many of the callers were concerned about the recalled meat. Ron Petersen, with USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, notes that the primary and secondary processors of the meat have been identified. In one secondary location - Interstate Meats of Clackamas, Ore. - 25% of the meat sent there was still on site. For other locations, the recall and record collection information continues. "Essentially, this effort started Friday, due to the holidays," Petersen notes. "We are currently involved in tracking down the rest of the product."
However, Petersen notes there's little risk to the meat in the system since all suspect tissues were removed. In addition, all of the rendered product is also being recalled and taken out of the system. While this is not really considered a safety issue, it is an action that everyone says is being taken in an "abundance of caution."