updated 5/3/2004 11:39:19 PM ET 2004-05-04T03:39:19

A cow that showed a potential sign of a central nervous disorder was destroyed and sent to rendering before the U.S. Department of Agriculture could test it for disease, officials said Monday.

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The cow was taken to slaughter Wednesday at Lone Star Beef in San Angelo.

In a joint statement from Ron Dehaven, administrator for animal and plant health inspection, and Barbara Masters, acting administrator for food safety and inspection, the officials said a veterinarian condemned the animal after seeing it stagger and fall, indicating either an injury or a potential sign of a neurological disorder such as rabies or mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

“Standard procedures call for animals condemned due to a possible (central nervous system) disorder to be kept until (USDA) officials can collect samples for testing,” the statement said. “However, this did not occur in this case and the animal was sent to rendering.”

“We don’t know why” the animal was rendered before samples were taken, said Susan Holl, spokeswoman with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency of the USDA. “We’re looking into that.”

“It looks as if there was some misunderstanding,” said Andrea McNally, a USDA spokeswoman.

USDA officials are investigating the circumstances and “will take appropriate actions once all information is available,” Dehaven and Masters said.

Eating meat from animals infected with BSE can cause a rare but deadly neurological disease in humans.

The rendered product from the animal did not enter the human food chain and presents no risk to human health, a joint statement from Dehaven and Masters said.

Animals that have been destroyed can still be processed at rendering plants that prepare animal byproducts for use in consumer goods, from cosmetics to gelatin for drug capsules. The government believes such items pose no risk to human health.

Last year inspectors tested 20,000 animals in the United States and 500 of them exhibited signs of central nervous system disorder, USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said. None tested positive for mad cow disease.

The only case of mad cow detected in the United States was in Washington state in December.

On June 1, USDA inspectors will increase the number of cattle tested for mad cow disease to help reassure Americans the meat supply is safe and to win back exports markets, the agency said.

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