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What mad cow scare? Fire up the grill

There will be no ribs or steaks on the grill this Fourth of July weekend at the Brown house. Worried by the latest confirmed homegrown case of mad cow disease in the U.S., the Browns plan to cook up some chicken.
/ Source: The Associated Press

There will be no ribs or steaks on the grill this Fourth of July weekend at the Brown house.

There will be no ribs or steaks on the grill this Fourth of July weekend at the Brown house. Worried by the latest confirmed homegrown case of mad cow disease in the United States, the Browns plan to cook up some chicken.

“They said the cow was destroyed, but how do we know that’s true?” said Barbara Brown, 54, who was packing groceries into her mother’s car. “We’ve been cutting back on beef, but this has colored the issue even more.”

But at a butcher shop in New York City, Al Wilson, 60, bought a pound of ground beef and planned to grill up hamburgers along with spare ribs for Independence Day. Mad cow disease, he said, is “in the back of my head, but I think the numbers are in my favor.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be so trusting,” he added, but “it’s unlikely to affect me.”

Just days before one of the grilling weekends of the year, U.S. authorities announced that mad cow disease has been found in a beef cow from a Texas ranch — the first documented case of the brain-destroying malady in U.S.-born and -raised livestock. The only other known case of the disease in the United States turned up in 2003 in Washington state, in a dairy cow that had come from Canada.

The reaction at supermarkets and butcher shops around the country has been mixed.

Mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, causes sponge-like holes in the brain. In people, a rare and deadly form called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has been linked to eating infected tissue from cows.

Mad cow disease in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s has been blamed for the deaths of 150 people. But there has never been a documented case of the human illness from the eating of contaminated beef in the United States.

Officials said the Texas case poses no new threat to the health of people or animals.

In addition, the government requires the removal of the brain, spinal column and other nerve tissue from cattle older than 2½ years when slaughtered. Many scientists believe that mad cow proteins are confined to nervous system tissue.

Also, the infected cow was 12 years old, born well before the government’s 1997 ban on animal feed containing ground-up sheep and cattle parts, which can transmit the disease.

“In terms of science, there is no risk,” said Steven Cohen, spokesman for the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said he could not name a cut or type of meat product that would be at risk of carrying the mad cow protein.

Beef industry officials and producers said they do not believe customers will shy away from burgers, steaks or kabobs. Jennifer Whitman, a spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said: “We haven’t seen any decrease in demand at all.”

In Texas, the No. 1 cattle-producing state, customers streamed into the Old Town Market in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville, stocking up on hamburger, ribs and brisket for the big weekend. “You trust that things are in place to be protective, just like you do with medicine,” said one customer, Irene Carey.

Roland Dickey Jr., vice president of Dickey’s Barbecue, which has 65 restaurants in six states, said that they did not see any drop-off in business after the first case of mad cow was found in the U.S. and do not expect a decrease this time either.

“I think that the American public knows that basically the food supply is completely safe,” he said.

Nevertheless, Carol Brandt of Prunedale, Calif., drove 60 miles to stock up on $80 worth of grass-fed filets and T-bones for the holiday weekend. Brandt buys her beef directly from PL Bar Grass-fed Beef, a family run ranch in Gonzales, Calif., where owner Frank LaMacchia’s cattle feed on 11,000 acres of clover.

“I don’t care what it costs,” said Brandt, 61. “It’s worth it because I know that there have been no bad things given to the cows. No insecticides, hormones or ground-up dead cows getting fed to them.”

As for the mad cow news, “I was so glad that I’ve been eating grass-fed beef for so long that I didn’t have to worry about that getting in my food chain,” Brandt said. “Frank said one of these days it’s going to happen, we’re not going to want to be associated with the mainstream beef.”