Mad cow disease: Big deal abroad. US? Not so much. (+video)
Mad cow disease has hit the US only four times since regulators took steps to control it 15 years ago. Although the latest announcement of mad cow disease may alarm American consumers, the biggest reaction may come from nations that decide to ban US beef.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated.]
The discovery of "mad cow disease" in a California dairy cow may set off alarm bells among some American consumers, but the biggest reaction may come from abroad.
On all three previous occasions after the United States made public a "mad cow" infection, many of the biggest importers of US beef closed their borders to the product, at least temporarily. After the first such announcement in late 2003, beef exports plunged so much that it took until last year before beef exports recovered completely. Some experts foresee an inevitable international reaction after Tuesday's announcement of a new case of mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
"There's going to be some of that" border-closing, says Scott Hurd, associate professor at the Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Ames, Iowa, and former deputy undersecretary of agriculture for food safety at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)."There are some countries that are looking for any excuse to ban US products."
So far, international reaction has been mixed. The European Commission says it does not intend to impose any specific import measures and key beef importers Mexico, Japan, and South Korea have said they will continue imports. But two major South Korean grocery chains have decided to halt sales of US beef.