An examination of the Alabama cow identified as the third U.S. case of mad cow disease showed the animal was at least 10 years old, meaning it was born before the 1997 feed ban was implemented, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The U.S. Agriculture Department also said federal officials located a six-week-old calf that belonged to the infected animal. The calf has been quarantined and moved to USDA’s lab in Ames, Iowa, for further observation.
The animal was exhumed and its teeth examined to confirm that it was at least 10 years old.
Jim Rogers, a spokesman with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said “they’re going to examine the breed again and look for any identifying marks on it, tags, tattoos.” He added, “We want to do it as quickly as we can.”
The age of the animal is significant because one of the two major safeguards against mad cow disease -- a ban on using cattle parts in cattle feed -- began in 1997. Scientists say mad cow is spread through infected cattle feed.
The remains of the animal were removed from the Alabama farm on Thursday. A DNA sample will be sent to Ames to confirm it matches with the suspect animal and to locate siblings and offspring during the investigation.
Examination of the carcass was required to confirm the age and breed and determine the origin of birth, USDA said.
Ron DeHaven, head of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday there was no indication the feed ban was ineffective.
“This animal would have been infected as a baby calf nine or 10 years ago. Our efforts are now on tracing that animal back to the herd where it was born,” said DeHaven.
The ailing beef cow was originally reported to be a Santa Gertrudis breed. USDA said it now believed the cow was more likely a red crossbred, possibly crossed with a Santa Gertrudis or a similar breed.
Officials confirmed mad cow in the animal Monday, using the so-called Western blot test. A second confirmatory test that takes more time to complete, called the immunohistochemistry, also came back positive on Wednesday.
Under the system used by USDA, if either of the advanced tests comes back positive, the animal is considered to have mad cow disease, formally named bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
There have been two other cases of mad cow in the United States, the first found in December 2003.
Separately, USDA officials said the department was drawing plans to scale down its mad cow surveillance program, which found two of the three U.S. cases of the disease.
Japanese consumers, already wary of eating U.S. beef due to mad cow fears, will become even more concerned if the United States goes ahead with plans to cut back on its mad cow testing, Japanese Vice Agriculture Minister Mamoru Ishihara said at a news conference on Thursday.
The current U.S. program to test only 1 percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered in the United States each year is already insufficient, compared with the Japanese system that requires all cattle aged 21 months or older to be tested for mad cow disease.
“Japanese consumers are concerned about the U.S. way of conducting surveillance,” Ishihara said. Ishihara said U.S. beef would not win Japanese consumers’ confidence unless the United States properly carries out its mad cow surveillance program.
Since June 2004, USDA has tested more than 650,000 head, mostly older and higher-risk cattle, for mad cow disease through its so-called expanded surveillance program. The program initially was expected to run 12 to 18 months.