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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Hawai'i cattle ranchers in 'wait-and-see' mode

 •  Mad cow case found in U.S.

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawai'i Department of Agriculture said last night it was unlikely Hawai'i livestock would be traced to the farm in Washington where a case of mad cow disease has surfaced.

"All of the dairy cattle imported to Hawai'i in the past 10 years have come from California, a factor that makes it highly unlikely that the disease from that herd would have made its way here," said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, chairwoman of the Hawai'i Board of Agriculture.

Hawai'i has about 150,000 head of beef and dairy cattle.

Michael Bryan, vice president of livestock operations at Parker Ranch on the Big Island, said he and some other Big Island ranchers would be briefed by conference call today on the latest developments, and he wanted to wait before discussing the situation.

"Right now it's just kind of wait-and-see," Bryan said. "That's about all we can do until we find out for sure."

Parker Ranch ships 10,000 to 11,000 calves to the Mainland each year through Canada, and leases pasture land in Texas and California to graze them until they can be sold. An outbreak of mad cow disease on the Mainland — or a federal quarantine program to prevent the disease from spreading — could affect the ranch's livestock operations.

"All our cattle go to the Mainland, so we're right there with everybody else," said Bryan, who is also president of the Hawai'i Cattlemen's Council.

If the suspected case is confirmed, the effect on the Hawai'i industry would depend on how the government responds to the case, he said.

"If the thing comes back negative, all this stuff is for naught," he said.

Reach Kevin Dayton at (808) 935-3916 or kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

Facts about BSE

Mad cow disease, unofficial label for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a brain-wasting illness that infects cattle. Scientists believe it is spread when a cow eats meal that contains spinal or brain tissue of an animal infected with BSE.

Humans can get a related illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, if they eat meat containing infected tissue. The disease attacks the nervous system and is incurable. More than 150 people died of it in Europe after mad cow disease appeared in the 1980s. A cow was found infected with mad cow disease in Canada in May, prompting the United States and other countries to shut their borders to Canadian beef imports.

The United States has acted to guard against the disease. Since 1997, the Food and Drug Administration has banned animal feed that contains brain or spinal tissue of cattle. Farmers once fed such meal to their cattle because it was high in protein and could help the animals gain weight.

— Associated Press