WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is trying to reassure Japan and other foreign customers of American beef while awaiting further tests on a suspected case of mad cow disease.
Routine testing indicated the possible presence of mad cow disease in a U.S. cow, the Agriculture Department announced Saturday. Results from more detailed testing at department laboratories in Ames, Iowa, are expected in the next week.
In the meantime, Washington is working to satisfy concerns from overseas trading partners.
"We're certainly keeping them informed of the situation and will relay all the information we have," department spokesman Ed Loyd said Sunday. "When we have further test results, we will share that with our trading partners." Japan halted U.S. beef shipments in January after finding veal cuts with backbone cuts that are eaten in the U.S. but not in Asia. Japan had been the top customer of American beef before the first U.S. case of mad cow disease prompted a ban, which Japan had only recently lifted.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns met Friday with his Japanese counterpart, Shoichi Nakagawa, while they were in London for global trade meetings. Johanns intended to brief Nakagawa about the possible case of mad cow disease before leaving London, Loyd said.
Johanns expects to send a formal response in the coming week to lingering questions Japan has about the prohibited shipment of veal.
The secretary, who testified last week on Capitol Hill about budget matters, said lawmakers are anxious for trade to resume, Johanns said.
"I spoke candidly with Minister Nakagawa about the eagerness among lawmakers to resolve the beef export issue with Japan," Johanns said in a statement Friday.
Whether the animal was infected affects issues other than trade.
The department has been deciding whether to scale back its higher level of testing for mad cow disease. Testing was increased from about 55 to 1,000 daily after the first case of mad cow disease in 2003. As of Friday, 644,603 of the nation's estimated 95 million head of cattle had been tested under the enhanced level of testing.
It was this testing that turned up the suspect case. The department would not say where the cow was from.
A preliminary test by a contract lab indicated that cow disease may have been present - the department calls this an "inconclusive" result - and brain samples were sent to department labs for two types of more detailed tests.
The United States has found two cases of mad cow disease. The first was in December 2003 in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state. The second was last June in a cow that was born and raised in Texas.
Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. In humans, eating meat products contaminated with BSE has been linked to more than 150 deaths, mostly in Britain, from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and fatal nerve disease.
No human is known to have contracted the disease inside the United States. Separately, Hong Kong has suspended imports from a U.S. beef processing company after discovering its products contained bones prohibited under regulations aimed at protecting against mad cow disease, the Hong Kong government said.
Imports from Swift Beef Co., based in Colorado, have been suspended, Hong Kong's Food and Environment Hygiene Department said late Saturday.
Hong Kong partially lifted a two-year ban U.S. beef imports in December, imposed after mad cow disease was detected in a cow in Washington state.
Only boneless beef from cattle less than 30 months old and without the animal's brain, spinal cord or other parts considered high risk for mad cow disease are allowed into the territory.