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State Ag Commissioner Assures Public About Food Supply After Latest Mad Cow Case

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Agriculture Department is confident about the state's food supply amid news of a suspected case of mad cow disease in Washington state.

State Ag Commissioner Britt Cobb said he is very confident in North Carolina's food supply and telling people not to alter their eating patterns. At the same time, he said the state will be more vigilant at meat processing plants and feed mills.

An investigation is under way to determine if any of the infected beef from a dairy cow in Washington State reached store shelves. About 10,000 pounds is being recalled just in case.

Instead of simply relying on federal inspectors, North Carolina and 24 other states operate their own inspection programs. While state agricultural leaders have confidence in their program, they will pay closer attention to detail.

"We are going to be increasing some of the surveillance we do with regards to being on extra alert at the meat processing plants. We'll make sure we are extremely vigilant in the feed mills," veterinarian Dr. David Marshall said.

Despite the extra precautions, N.C. State Agriculture Economist Dr. Geoff Benson said the food scare will drive down prices for consumers and farmers.

"We are talking about potential losses in the billions," he said.

Other countries have already banned imports of U.S. beef. Depending on how Americans react, Benson believes it could be devastating for some small farmers.

"They are going to have to look at prices and the cost of business and see if they will stay in business. I do expect some will sell out," Benson said.

Mad cow disease was first detected in the United Kingdom in 1986. It peaked in 1993, with almost 1,000 new cases each week. In 1996, a variant of the disease was detected in humans and linked to the epidemic.