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Feds Quarantine Texas Cattle: Fear Mad Cow

January 26, 2001

The quarantine of a herd of Texas cattle that may have eaten feed banned by rules designed to prevent mad cow disease in the United States just shows how well government protections on the food supply work, an industry official said.

But while industry and government officials stress that the risk is small, cattle ranchers fear the mix-up might be enough to taint public perception, just as beef was rebounding after a decade of flat sales.

``The key message consumers need to hear is that we have taken aggressive steps in the U.S. to keep problem from occurring, and that U.S. beef continues to be wholesome, nutritious food,'' said Todd Domer, a spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association.

U.S. beef consumption rose 2 percent in 1999 to 66.2 pounds per person, the highest since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For much of the '90s, a nation long known for its love of burgers and steaks seemed to have had its fill of red meat amid concerns it might be linked to high cholesterol and heart disease.

Cattlemen say just mentioning the possibility of the brain-wasting disease infecting the nation's beef supply could cause consumers to think twice about buying beef and cause those numbers to retreat.

``Unfortunately, perception amounts to a lot in a lot of things, and this is not any different than a lot of them,'' said rancher Adrian Casey, who shoveled manure from a stall late Thursday at a stock show in Fort Worth.

One thousand cattle were quarantined after a feed mill disclosed it may have violated rules meant to prevent the deadly illness.

A Purina Mills Inc. plant may have mixed cow meat and bone meal into a feed supplement that was put on the wrong truck, Beverly Boyd, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Agriculture, said Thursday.

A Purina Mills spokesman said Friday the company had begun phasing out the use of meat and bone meal from cows in any of its livestock feed. Beef by-products are banned for cattle or sheep feed but commonly used in swine and poultry feed.

``This (quarantine) just happened to be a matter of timing. But as of last night, we are no longer using it,'' said Max Fisher, a spokesman for St. Louis-based Purina Mills. ``It's a voluntary move on our behalf and takes us down to a zero risk factor for a misformulation in the future.''

The questionable feed was manufactured by a Purina Mills plant in Gonzales, Texas. The company said the error was discovered through its ``quality assurance program'' of internal controls.

The feed was shipped to only one customer, the release said, and the remaining feed from the manufactured lot has been successfully recalled.

Burt Rutherford, a spokesman for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, said the feed mill called the Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) and the feedlot that received the product with meat and bone meal. The ranch under quarantine was not identified.

``They've pulled samples of feed and are running tests on it now,'' Rutherford said. ``We should know the results early next week.''

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the fatal human equivalent of mad cow disease. Some 80 Europeans have died of new variant CJD since the mid-1990s, and beef sales have plummeted on that continent.

``For some reason, publicity surrounding this has kind of taken on a life of its own, even though the problem is across the big pond,'' Domer said.

The disease has never been found in U.S. cattle, and in its release Purina stressed that it only uses meat and bone meal from U.S.-grown animals and only in those products where it is allowed.

As a precaution, the government has banned cows and sheep from being given feed made from animal parts, no matter what their country of origin.

A recent FDA report found hundreds of feed makers were violating labeling requirements and other rules associated with the ban. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has organized a private meeting Monday involving representatives of the industry and officials from the FDA and the Agriculture Department to press for better compliance.

``We certainly want feed companies to be in compliance,'' Domer said. ``We even have members talking to their feed companies making sure they're in compliance. They're that serious about the situation.''

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