Thursday, May 22, 2003

Canada scrambles to save beef industry



The Associated Press

TORONTO - Prime Minister Jean Chretien ate a high-profile steak lunch Wednesday, trying to reassure the world that Canadian beef is safe after North American's first case of mad cow disease in a decade was discovered in a herd in Alberta.

Fearing harm to the beef industry, a mainstay in Alberta and a significant sector of Canada's economy, government and industry figures sought to stem concerns of a wider outbreak.

"If it is one herd, it's not the same thing than if it is spread," Chretien said in his first comments on the issue, made over a steak lunch Wednesday.

"So we hope and we pray, we have all indication that it is one cow in one herd."

The United States and several other countries banned beef imports from Canada following Tuesday's announcement that an 8-year-old cow at a northern Alberta farm had contracted bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

Meanwhile, a Canadian government official said more cattle might have been infected with mad cow disease and processed into meat while a Canadian laboratory held samples from a sick cow for four months before officials found it was carrying the disease.

"It's possible we might find some more, and that's why we're looking," Dr. Claude Lavigne, associate executive director of Canada's animal products directorate, said in a teleconference with U.S. and Canadian reporters.

Canadian and U.S. officials have said the infected cow was not processed into food for humans or animals.

Angry over the delay in testing, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Canadian officials should have been prompt in checking samples from the infected cow and releasing the results.

"Somehow it took four months to have it tested and to tell the people in this country, and also in Canada, there was a cow with mad cow disease killed in January," said Dorgan. "That's absurd."



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