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Russia suspends U.S. beef imports

BSE in cows has been linked with the degenerative condition vCJD in humans
BSE in cows has been linked with the degenerative condition vCJD in humans

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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman confirms the mad cow case.
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• Mad cow disease was first reported in the United Kingdom in 1986, peaking in 1993 with almost 1,000 new cases per week. 
• In 1996, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) was detected in humans and linked to the mad cow epidemic. Eating contaminated meat and cattle products is presumed to be the cause.
• Both are fatal brain diseases with unusually long incubation periods, often lasting years.
Source: CDC
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MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russia has suspended imports of U.S. beef after receiving official confirmation of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States.

Russian agriculture minister Alexei Gordeyev told the Interfax news agency that the move followed U.S. notification that BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, had been found at a farm in Washington state.

"In connection with that, the veterinary service decided to temporarily suspend shipments of U.S. beef to Russia in accordance with the law," Interfax quoted Gordeyev as saying.

"After we become convinced that the safety of Russian customers and animals is ensured, a new decision will be made."

In May Russia banned Canadian beef imports following the discovery of a single case of mad cow disease there. That suspension remained in place for two-and-half months

Russia's decision follows similar moves by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and South Africa.

Ukraine said it would follow its neighbor if it received confirmation from the U.S.

Despite Moscow's efforts to cut food imports and encourage domestic livestock breeding, Russia and the U.S. agreed in September to retain the U.S.'s market share for poultry, beef and pork supplies.

The United States is allowed to export 17,200 tons of frozen beef to Russia within the total 420,000-ton Russian import quota for 2004.

Health concerns

The European Union said it was monitoring the situation, although existing protective measures already prevent the import of most U.S. beef because of health concerns over cattle treated with growth hormones.

"We are keeping a close eye on the situation," European Commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan told Reuters.

"We think our measures are sufficient at the moment."

The first case of BSE in cattle was identified in Britain in 1985, with the outbreak of the disease subsequently forcing the destruction of about 3.7 million British cattle.

At least 137 people, mainly in Britain, have died from Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), a degenerative condition that scientists believe humans can contract from eating BSE-infected meat.

Britain's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said Washington could draw on its experience for advice on handling the outbreak.

A tissue sample of the diseased cow has already been flown by U.S. military jet to a laboratory in England for additional confirmation of the initial diagnosis. The results are expected to be ready in three to five days.

"We're willing to give our advice on the disease if required, based on the knowledge we have," a DEFRA spokesman said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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