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The Associated Press reports that negotiations have opened between the US and Canada about relaxing the current ban on Canadian beef imports by US companies, even as the Canadian government continues to investigate the origins of the animal that was discovered to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease.

Canadian officials are hoping that the US will decide to at least relax restrictions, allowing some beef products cross the border, such as that made from younger animals that could not have contracted the disease from the infected cow.

The current status of the mad cow investigation is:

  • Tests on 192 animals from the most recent herd with which the infected cow lived have came back negative. (Cows have to be slaughtered to be tested.)

  • Tests are being performed on more than 600 cattle that have been slaughtered because they came from farms that have been linked to the infected cow, as the government does DNA tests on that cow to see if they can figure out where it came from.

  • There are three farms in British Columbia that received poultry feed made from the infected cow's carcass, and while poultry cannot contract mad cow disease, the farms have been unable to prove that their cows did not eat the feed.

  • The government has said that more animals could be quarantined and slaughtered as it traces the movements and origins of the infected cow.

  • While the Canadian beef used by McDonald's restaurants in that country usually is augmented by Australian and New Zealand beef, it currently is being supplanted by American beef, which has been rushed to Canada so that the Golden Arches have something to sell.

Mad cow disease is believed to spread through cow feed made with protein and bone meal made from mammals. The human form of BSE is the fatal brain-wasting illness variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Last year, Canada sold $1.3 billion worth of beef and beef products to the United States.
KC's View:
We don't mind the idea of loosening the ban once more information about the cow's origins have been narrowed down, but does it strike anyone else that there seems to be an awful lot of unknowns in this story? Especially in a general climate of concerns about food safety, you’d think folks would have a better handle on the origins of the cattle they sell.