Mad cow meat recall widens

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - Investigators and retailers in eight states and a territory are scrambling to recover meat that may have come from a Holstein stricken with deadly mad cow disease.

Agriculture Department officials maintain, meanwhile, there is no health risk to consumers.

Dr. Kenneth Petersen, a department veterinarian, said Sunday that an investigation revealed that meat from the infected dairy cow could have reached retail markets in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana and the territory of Guam - more locations than originally thought.

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Officials had said earlier that most of the meat went to Washington and Oregon, with lesser amounts to California and Nevada, for retail sale.

''The recalled meat represents essentially zero risk to consumers,'' said Petersen, of USDA's food safety agency.

He said parts most likely to carry infection - the brain, spinal cord and lower intestine - were removed before the meat from the infected cow was cut and processed for human consumption.

Despite their assurances of food safety, federal officials have taken the precaution of recalling 10,000 pounds of meat from the infected cow and from 19 other cows slaughtered Dec. 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meat Co., in Moses Lake, Wash.

Because it is not known exactly what portions of the meat cut that day came from the diseased cow, health authorities must assume that some could have reached any location where any part of the 10,000-pound supply was distributed.

Officials still are recovering meat and won't know how much was found for days, Petersen said.

Mad cow disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is a concern because humans who eat brain or spinal matter from an infected cow can develop a brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. During a mad cow outbreak in the 1980s, 143 people died of it in Britain.

Petersen said the slaughtered cow was deboned at Midway Meats in Centralia, Wash., and sent Dec. 12 to two other plants, Willamette Valley Meat and Interstate Meat, both near Portland, Ore.

Willamette also received beef trimmings, which were sold to some three dozen small, mom-and-pop Asian and Mexican facilities in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada, officials said. Several Western supermarket chains - Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and WinCo Foods - have voluntarily removed ground beef products from the affected distributors.