updated 1/13/2004 7:41:03 PM ET 2004-01-14T00:41:03

Agriculture officials have begun killing 129 more cows in Washington state that could be linked to the Holstein with mad cow disease, as the search for potentially infected animals and feed entered its fourth week.

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The slaughter began Saturday at an unused facility in eastern Washington, Agriculture Department spokeswoman Julie Quick said Tuesday.

In Ames, Iowa, meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman broke ground on the government’s new animal disease complex and said President Bush would ask for the final $178 million to complete it in his 2005 budget.

Veneman said the upgrade of the labs in Ames, where tests on brain tissue from the Holstein found it was infected with the brain-wasting disease, is critical.

“Our animal health inspection will have greater capacity to respond to animal disease outbreaks and possible acts of bioterrorism,” Veneman said.

The animals being killed are from the Mabton, Wash., dairy farm that was the infected cow’s final home. Investigators have identified nine cows as coming from the same Alberta, Canada, herd as the infected cow, and cannot eliminate the possibility that the other 120 animals also came from the same dairy farm as the sick Holstein.

In addition, Quick said USDA soon will order the killing of three cows on a Mattawa, Wash., farm that came from the same Canadian herd.

Officials have so far condemned 581 animals following the Dec. 23 announcement of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease. Authorities last week killed a herd of 449 bull calves, which included an offspring of the infected cow.

Meat from those animals is not being sold for human or animal consumption, officials have said.

Another farm placed under quarantined
Agriculture officials also have placed a farm in Quincy, Wash., under quarantine because investigators believe that seven cows from the Alberta herd were sent there, Quick said. Officials are trying to determine whether the animals are still there.

Even if those seven cows are found on the Washington farm, authorities will have located just a fourth of the 80 cows that entered the United States with the infected Holstein in 2001, although Quick said investigators “have solid leads on the others.”

The government still has not verified information from the Canadian government that another 17 cows, possibly including a calf born to the sick cow, entered the United States at a later date.

Investigators are trying to find cows from the same herd because the most likely source of infection was contaminated feed that the Holstein ate as a calf.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, eats holes in the brains of cattle and is incurable. Humans can develop a brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from consuming contaminated beef products. Officials have said, though, that the meat supply is safe.

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