Friday, January 21, 2005

Hawaii to help
effort to track cows

SPOKANE, Wash. » Livestock producers in seven Western states, including Hawaii, have started a pilot program to track their animals from birth to death, part of a move to safeguard consumers and herds from mad cow disease.

The Northwest Pilot Project hopes to find workable and cost-effective tracking systems in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii, said coordinator Julie Morrison of the Idaho Cattle Association.

Authorities last week confirmed another case of mad cow disease in Canada, the second of the deadly brain-wasting disease in that country since U.S. officials announced last month they would resume the cross-border cattle trade starting in March.

Canadian officials said no part of the cow entered the human or animal feed system. The lone U.S. cow found to have been infected with mad cow disease, in Washington state in December 2003, had been imported from Canada.

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. People who eat tainted meat can contract a fatal brain disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

With the Canadian cases as a backdrop, cattlemen at the annual Spokane Ag Expo-Pacific Northwest Farm Forum in Spokane are looking at ways to economically track their livestock. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working on speeding up development of a system so that a diseased animal or tainted meat can be traced within 48 hours.

Any program will remain voluntary until the federal government develops the best system possible and addresses all concerns, including who bears the cost and how to maintain confidentiality of farm records, according to the USDA.

The western pilot project involves a coalition of cattlemen and dairy associations, state departments of agriculture, universities and other industry groups. The trial will involve about 27,000 head of livestock -- mostly beef cattle and dairy cows, but also about 1,100 sheep.

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