Tainted beef may have reached Hawai`i

Federal agriculture officials today confirmed that meat linked to a case of mad cow disease in Washington state was likely distributed to Hawai`i, as well as seven other states and Guam. The news expands the range of a Dec. 23 recall that included only four states. Even so, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sought to reassure the public that American beef is safe. “The recall was initiated out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Ken Petersen of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a technical briefing today. “The recalled beef represents an essentially zero risk to consumers.”

Peterson explained that products had been distributed primarily in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and California. Today, he confirmed “some limited further distribution” into Hawai`i, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho, as well as the U.S. territory of Guam.

“Therefore, eight states and one territory are currently involved with the recall,” he said.

Consumers are advised to check with their grocer as to whether the recall applies to products they’ve purchased, and to call the USDA’s hotline at 1-888-674-6854 with any questions.

The USDA has been working to document in detail both the history of the infected cow, and the subsequent distribution of its meat.

Although the cow was slaughtered on Dec. 9, regular testing did not take place until Dec. 22, when the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) agent was first detected. Subsequent tests prompted the beef recall on Dec. 24, and scientists in the United Kingdom confirmed the findings on Christmas Day.

“We remain confident in the safety of these beef products,” Petersen reiterated, explaining that all of the tissues that are known to contain the BSE agent were removed on Dec. 9.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, the USDA chief veterinary officer, said that preliminary information indicates the cow was imported from Canada, but insisted no final determination has been made.

Japan, South Korea and Mexico — the top three markets for U.S. beef exports — announced bans on American beef last week. Several Latin American nations, as well as Egypt, Indonesia, and Vietnam, have since followed suit.

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