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AMERICAN MORNING

Infected Cow Was Bought in Canada

Aired December 29, 2003 - 08:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, ANCHOR: Investigators and retailers are casting a wider net as they scramble to recover meat from a Holstein that was stricken with the deadly Mad Cow Disease.
The Agriculture Department is still saying that there is no health risk to consumers.

Earlier this morning Ron DeHaven, the chief veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, put the situation into some perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RON DEHAEN, CHIEF VETERINARIAN, USDA: The department actions have been taken out of an abundance of caution. We have, in fact, initiated a recall of that beef.

Based on the program that we've had in place in the United States for over ten years, we know at worst the prevalence of the disease in this country is very minimal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Correspondent Holly Firfer joins us this morning from CNN Center with more on that.

Holly, good morning.

HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Yes, the USDA and Dr. DeHaven says meat from that infected cow may have gone to eight states and one U.S. territory.

They traced the carcass to two processors in Oregon. And from there the meat went to distributors in Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, and California. Then muscle cuts were also sent to Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho, and Guam.

Now even though they are recalling more than 10,000 pounds of beef, health officials insist that risk to consumers is low, because, the parts known to carry Mad Cow Disease, including the brain and the spinal cord, were removed before the processing.

Now, following a paper trail, USDA officials say they believe that infected cow came from Alberta, Canada, with 73 other cattle in April of 2001. An ear tag was taken from the cow at slaughter. It matched records in Canada. Now, although there's a discrepancy in the age of the cow, U.S. officials do believe the infected cow was four to four and a half years old, while the Canadian records show she would have been six and a half, and she had already birthed two calves before entering the country.

The significance in her age may tell U.S. officials where that Holstein was infected, which is really important, Soledad. So DNA tests are underway to make that positive identification.

O'BRIEN: Holly, thank you for that update.

Question now, how are farmers in Washington state reacting to this news? Joining us this morning from Seattle is Jay Gordon. He's the executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, and his group includes the farm where the infected cow was discovered.

Nice to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning.

JAY GORDON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WASHINGTON STATE DAIRY FEDERATION: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Give me a sense of the reaction to the news that, in fact, this cow, this infected cow, may have come from Canada.

GORDON: The news is pretty new to us. And so the producers are really probably looking at USDA and wanting to make sure that they can confirm that.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for jumping in there, but when you say producers, you mean the local farmers that you deal with?

GORDON: Yes, I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: So they're only getting the news now?

GORDON: They've just gotten the news in the last couple of days.

O'BRIEN: You have talked, though, to the person who owns the herd where the infected cow came from. How concerned is he about the rest -- the health of the rest of his livestock?

GORDON: Well, you know, he's doing pretty well, given very difficult circumstances. He was told right up front that there was a possibility that his entire herd may need to be tested, which means, in USDA terms, depopulated.

So, he's really, I don't think, concerned about that. He just understands he's part of a bigger process right now.

O'BRIEN: So when you say depopulated, for the rest of us who are not in the cattle business, that's they kill them all, right?

GORDON: Yes. In order to test them, that's what they've got to do.

O'BRIEN: OK. So here's my question for you.

Explain to me how a cow that's so sick that it couldn't make it into the slaughter would have, and one that's suspected of having Mad Cow Disease, would have its meat products shipped off across the country, then triggering a recall when it turns out that the test has confirmed Mad Cow.

Why wouldn't they slaughter the animal, keep all the parts and spare themselves the effort of recall down the road, should it turn out that the test is positive? I don't understand why it's happened the way it's happened.

GORDON: That's been the policy. First of all, I guess, one thing to correct is that the animal in question here, my understanding, was not sick. She was -- she'd gone through a difficult birth went to the meat plant. She was tested, so the system did test her.

That certainly is something, as USDA goes through the process, that we're aware and hopeful that USDA will highlight some places where the system can be improved. But this has been the policy that the U.S. has had to keep the meat safe to this point.

O'BRIEN: So you're saying that this particular Holstein was not one of those downed cows that we hear about?

GORDON: She certainly, the story that we've gotten is she was down. But the definition that we use for down, and the way, you know -- I'm a farmer also -- a downed animal can be an animal that has an injury to a leg, or in this case a pinched nerve that renders her unable to walk, certainly not something that we would consider sick.

O'BRIEN: Jay Gordon is the executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation. Thanks for joining us this morning and clarifying some stuff for us. We certainly appreciate it.

GORDON: You're welcome. Thank you.

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