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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mad Cow in America Prompts Ban on Beef

Russia imposed a ban on imports of American beef on Wednesday after U.S. veterinary officials confirmed the first case of mad cow disease in the world's largest market.

"We have received official confirmation that in the U.S. state of Washington the first case of mad cow disease was reported," Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said.

"In connection with that and in accordance with the law, the veterinary service has decided to temporarily suspend shipments of beef from the United States to Russia," Gordeyev said.

"When we are sure that safety is provided to Russian consumers and to the animals, a new decision will be made."

Gordeyev said it was difficult to tell how long the testing procedures would last but mentioned that resolving a similar situation with Canadian beef imports in May took 2 1/2 months.

Gordeyev said the U.S. beef import suspension would effect neither the domestic market nor meat prices.

American meat accounts for 4 percent of the country's total beef imports, or less than 20,000 tons annually, he said.

Russians consume about 2.5 million tons of beef a year.

Russia's move came after the largest importers of U.S. beef, Japan and South Korea, as well as Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan, banned imports on Wednesday. (See related story, Page 10.)

"This is a very bad and very sad news. It may shake the whole world's meat business," said Dmitry Rylko, general director of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, or IKAR.

"It won't have a direct effect on Russia, but if the situation in the United States worsens and lasts too long, it may drive up beef prices. And that would also harm Russia," Rylko said.

Russia is the world's No. 3 beef importer. The domestic beef industry, which collapsed along with the Soviet Union, has seen herds shrink from 57 million head in 1992 to 26.6 million in 2002, of which only 1 percent is beef cattle and the rest are dairy cattle, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

The U.S. government reported on Tuesday it had discovered a cow on a Washington state farm that tested positive for mad cow disease, which would be the first appearance of the illness in the United States.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said that she was sure American beef was safe despite the discovery.

Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, has been reported in many European and Asian countries in past years.

It has prompted the massive destruction of herds, devastating the European beef industry.

The cow disease causes the fatal brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob illness in human beings. More than 120 people have died from the sickness, mostly in Britain.

Russia still has a ban on beef imports from Britain and some regions of other European countries, the Agriculture Ministry said.

Russia and the United States agreed in September to retain the Americans' longstanding market share for poultry, beef and pork supplies.

Moscow has been trying to cut food imports and encourage domestic livestock breeding.