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Cattle futures prices rebound from BSE news

04/25/2012 @ 11:43am

U.S. cattle futures rebounded Wednesday from the panicked selling of a day earlier, when traders were just learning of the fourth case of mad-cow disease in the U.S.

Live-cattle futures for April delivery were up 0.9% early Wednesday, as traders were encouraged by assurances from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that no meat from the California dairy cow that incurred the disease entered the U.S. food supply.

Cattle prices also received a lift Wednesday from news that Japan, South Korea and Mexico had no plans to change their import policies for U.S. beef. Still, two major South Korean retailers pulled American beef from their shelves Wednesday because of the mad-cow case, the first appearance of the brain-wasting illness in the U.S. since 2006.

Cattle for April delivery were recently up 1 cent, or 0.9%, to nearly $1.18 a pound in trading at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. June cattle futures were up 0.87 cent, or 0.8%, to $1.1245.

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal website, WSJ.com.)

Rumors of a mad-cow discovery in the U.S. crashed into markets on Tuesday before the USDA confirmed the finding after pit trading closed for the day. Nearly all cattle futures fell by their exchange-imposed limit of 3 cents for daily price movements.

USDA officials said Tuesday afternoon that the finding didn't pose any immediate threat to the safety of the food supply. They said that no meat from the animal had entered the food chain, and that people aren't at risk of contracting the disease through consumption of milk from an infected cow.

But the discovery in a diseased cow carcass at a rendering plant revived a top safety concern for the beef industry that had receded after six years without any appearance of the illness in the U.S.

USDA officials said the animal never was presented for slaughter for human consumption.

Mad-cow disease is most commonly spread in herds through contaminated feed, but USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford said that wasn't the case with this cow.

Animal-disease scientists said this "atypical" form of mad-cow disease is a rare case in which a cow incurs the disease spontaneously--not from eating feed that contains the remains of an infected cattle. (The practice of using cow byproducts in cattle feed is now banned in the U.S.)

Atypical cases of mad-cow disease are "very rare, spontaneous occurrences" in which brain proteins "misfold," said Jim Roth, a professor in the college of veterinary medicine at Iowa State University. Scientists don't know the cause, he said.

Mad-cow disease, also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, can cause a rare brain disease in people who eat infected cattle products. The human form of the disease has been linked to more than 100 deaths, mostly in Britain and Europe.

In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday that the nation believes there is no need to take further steps against U.S. beef imports, as the cow infected with the disease was older than 30 months.

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