The US slapped a ban on Canadian
beef after the report of mad cow

A cow in the western province of Alberta, Canada’s top cattle-producing region, tested positive for brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

It was tested after it was slaughtered last winter.

An official with the Canadian beef export federation played down the discovery saying it was one isolated case of an eight-year-old cow.

Canada’s only other case was in 1993 but the animal was imported from Britain, where the disease caused a crisis and sparked a US ban on British beef imports.

The US immediately banned Canadian beef imports on Tuesday pending further investigation. US agriculture officials said they were sending a technical team to Canada to assist in investigations.

Last year 90% of Canada’s beef exports went to the United States.

Japan's Agriculture Ministry has also acted, banning imports of meat and related products of cattle, sheep and goats, though Japan buys less than four percent of its beef from Canada. 

The cow with the latest case “did not enter the food chain” and its northern Alberta herd will be slaughtered, said Canada’s Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief at a televised news conference.

Shock waves

The mad cow news sent shock waves across the North American economy. Shares of Tyson Foods Inc., the largest US beef processor and fast-food giant McDonald’s Co. fell sharply.

McDonald’s stock slumped 5% and was the top loser in the Dow Jones Industrial average on Tuesday.

The Canadian dollar, which has been soaring in recent weeks, also dropped in value.

In April, Canada’s economy was hit by fears over flu-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Canada recently announced it had won the battle against SARS but not before 24 people had died.

Some experts believe mad cow disease may have been spread by cows in Britain who were fed the remains of sheep contaminated with scrapie. Other scientists say the disease rose from a mutation in a cow in the 1970s.

So far more than 80 people in Britain and Europe have died from the human variation of mad cow called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.