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The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) hopes to lift restrictions on the import of Canadian cattle to the US by the end of next year.

Cattle older than 30 months are banned from entering the US because it is believed that the likelihood of contracting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly referred to as mad cow disease, increases with age; cattle younger than 30 months are allowed into the US.

USDA officials tell the paper that they believe current regulations for testing and slaughtering cattle are sufficient for maintaining the safety of the food supply.

Ron DeHaven, administrator of the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, tells the paper that animals born before Canada had an effective ban on cattle protein in cattle feed would not be allowed to enter the United States.

“The only way mad cow disease is known to spread is in feed containing certain tissues from infected animals,” the Post Intelligencer writes. “Adding animal protein to feed is commonly done to speed growth, but in 1997, the United States and Canada banned cattle protein in cattle feed.”

The paper also offers this précis on cattle imports and mad cow disease:

“Since discovering its first case in May 2003, Canada has turned up two more cases. Two more were found in the United States, one in a cow imported from Canada and one in a Texas-born cow.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Canada had shipped 364,757 cattle into the United States since live cattle imports resumed in July. Overall, the United States has 95 million cattle, 45 million of them adults. Older animals typically accounted for about one-quarter of Canada's cattle shipments, Canadian industry estimates show.”
KC's View:
The question, as we’ve said before, is when – not if – the next case of BSE is identified in the US.

From there, we’ll have to decide exactly how safe the food supply is and if greater – not lesser – safety measures are needed.