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CANADA MAD COW
Associated Press Canadian beef shows standard inspection stamps as it hangs in a butcher shop in Toronto Thursday.

TORONTO (AP) — Seven herds of cattle are under quarantine in Canada, investigators said Thursday as officials broadened their search for the origins of North America's first case of mad cow disease in a decade.

Records indicate that the infected cow may have been born in Saskatchewan, Claude Lavigne of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told a news conference Thursday.

If so, it would be the first case of a North American-born animal getting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, which decimated the British beef industry in the 1990s. The only previous case of mad cow disease in North America, in 1993, involved a bull imported from Britain.

The United States banned beef imports from Canada after Tuesday's announcement that a cow from a herd in northern Alberta had the disease. The U.S. market is Canada's largest, accounting for more than 80 percent of Canadian beef exports.

Four more cattle herds were placed under quarantine on Thursday, Lavigne said, including three with calves that had come from the herd where the infected cow last lived. Three other herds were already under isolation, and two more were likely to be added to the list.

Canadian investigators have removed all the cattle from the Alberta farm that the infected cow last lived in and were killing the herd to examine the brains for possible cases of BSE. Test results were expected early next week; the findings will determine if the other quarantined herds will be put to death.

Five of the herds under quarantine are in Alberta, the heart of Canada's cattle country, and two in neighboring Saskatchewan, Lavigne said.

Despite the expanded quarantine list, "there's no evidence at this time that the safety of Canada's beef has been compromised in any way," he said. "Information strongly suggests that the risk to human health from this one cow is low."

Protecting the U.S. herd

- Records indicate that the infected cow may have been born in Saskatchewan.

- It would be the first case of a North American-born animal getting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

- The only previous case of mad cow disease in North America, in 1993, involved a bull imported from Britain.

- The United States banned beef imports from Canada after Tuesday's announcement.

- Canadian investigators have removed all the cattle from the Alberta farm that the infected cow last lived in.

Still, the closing of major foreign markets to Canadian beef brought immediate cuts in production and uncertainty to a major industry. Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand have also banned Canadian beef imports.

Elden McLachlan, who runs a 300-head herd near the northern Alberta farm where the stricken cow last lived, called the situation "a very big shock."

The infected cow's owner, identified by neighbors and his brother as Marwyn Peaster, shooed away reporters and refused comment. Peaster, 30, moved from Mississippi to Alberta in recent years, his brother Camron said.

Lavigne said officials still don't know how the stricken cow got BSE and said a search of records had even raised questions about the infected cow's age. Originally thought to be 8 years old, it may actually be 6, he said.

Fearing harm to Canada's $22 billion beef industry, government and industry officials sought to assure the world that Canadian beef was safe.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he and visiting French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin would eat steak on Thursday.

"I shall eat Canadian meat without any problem," Raffarin told a news conference, drawing a laugh.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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