Mad cow in Alabama causing little concern in county

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2006

James Owens, President of the Butler County Chapter of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association, believes the cattle farm where a cow tested positive for mad cow disease on early last week should remain undisclosed.

Officials with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries have said they will not release the name of the cattle operation where a cow was euthanized and subsequent tests produced a positive result for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), commonly referred to as mad cow disease.

&#8220I don't think they should release the name,” said Owens. &#8220It was a small cattle operation and the cow had been disposed of properly. No one's trying to hide anything, but there's no use in putting any more problems on the owner.”

Owens said cattle owners realize they are no longer just raising cows but a food supply, and the USDA has implemented a surveillance program to ensure beef is safe for consumers. The cow in question was at least 10 years old, according to an attending veterinarian, indicating it would have been born prior to the FDA's feed ban.

The FDA banned the use of cattle parts in cattle feed in 1997, which is how scientists say mad cow disease is spread.

Since June 2004, the USDA has tested more than 650,000 cattle for mad cow disease.

Officials said the animal did not enter the human food or animal feed supply, but did give birth to two calves, one in 2005, and one that is approximately six weeks old and has been quarantined.

Owens said any case of mad cow disease - especially one in Alabama – automatically raises concern in both the public and cattle ranchers. But there's really no way an infected animal can enter the food supply, he said.

&#8220The bottom line is beef is safe. If you got any meat you're scared of, send it to me,” he said laughing.

He continued, &#8220We've talked with some super markets and they've seen no effect of it. It's not affected the market whatsoever.”

The animal in question was a red crossbred cow and was not registered, which has made tracing its ancestry difficult for state officials.

&#8220I was very concerned to find out that the samples that tested positive for BSE were from a cow in Alabama, but this exactly the reason that we emphasize the importance of BSE surveillance,” said Agriculture & Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks. &#8220Even cows brought in from other states get tested for BSE before they would have a chance to sold as food. I cannot stress enough how important this testing is to protect consumers. The cattle producers of Alabama understand the need for these precautions as well and we will continue to work together closely to protect consumers.”

According to the Alabama Cattlemen's Association, the beef industry is the second largest segment of Alabama's farm economy representing a $2 billion industry with annual sales of cattle and calves exceeding $450 million.