U.S. food regulators moved quickly Wednesday to contain any fallout, real or perceived, from the discovery of mad cow disease in California. Top beef and dairy exporters quickly insisted that there was no threat to consumers.
The U.S. Department of Agricutlure on Tuesday reported that the nation's fourth-ever case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy had been confirmed in a central California dairy cow but "at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health." BSE cannot be transmitted through milk.
Previous cases of mad cow in Canada, Europe, Israel and Japan have caused major disruptions to global food trade worth billions of dollars. A massive European outbreak in 1986, infecting nearly 190,00 cattle, resulted in the destruction of millions of animals as a preventive measure. According to the Associated Press, more than 200 people around the world are believed to have died, most of them in Britain, from the human variant of the disease.
Early this morning, two major South Korean retailers suspended sales of U.S. beef, saying they would wait to see what action the government takes. South Korea barred U.S. beef in late 2003, following an earlier case of mad cow disease, only agreeing to resume most beef imports in 2008.