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Cattle futures bounce back despite case of Mad Cow

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Tess Vigeland: Cattle futures bounced back today as more details emerged about that case of Mad Cow disease here in California. It’s the first incident in this country in six years. A couple of South Korean retailers temporarily halted U.S. beef sales, but importers from Canada to Japan haven’t flinched.

That’s a big change from 2003 when the first U.S. case of Mad Cow wiped out $3 billion in exports. Why no panic this time around? Sarah Gardner has some answers from our Sustainability Desk.

Sarah Gardner: Sarah Klein is a food safety advocate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She’s not agitated about this latest case of mad cow or “BSE.”

Sarah Klein: Since the early 2000s when we were really terrified about BSE, the industry and the government have made significant changes.

Now, cows that can’t stand on their own can’t be used for food. And there’s a total ban on cattle feed that contains cow parts,  says Bill Marler, a leading food safety litigator.

Bill Marler: So I think the risk, although never zero, the risk of having Mad Cow disease getting into the beef supply is really, really small.

Plus, this California cow appears to be a spontaneous case, not caused by animal feed. But scientist Michael Hansen at Consumer Reports warned today the U.S. still allows risky practices. You can’t feed cows to cows directly, he says, but you can still grind up cow parts and feed them to pigs and chickens and then feed them to cows.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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