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Discovery of mad cow in Calif. was stroke of luck

This Tuesday photo shows a truck entering Baker Commodities transfer station, where a cow with mad cow disease was discovered in Hanford, Calif. The first new case of mad cow disease in the U.S. since 2006 has been discovered in a dairy cow in California, but health authorities said the animal never was a threat to the nation's food supply. The infected cow, the fourth ever discovered in the U.S., was found as part of an Agriculture Department surveillance program that tests about 40,000 cows a year for ...

HANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- A non-descript building in the heart of California's dairy country has become the focus of intense scrutiny now that mad cow disease has been discovered in a dead dairy cow.

The finding, announced Tuesday, is the first new case of the disease in the U.S. since 2006 -- and the fact that the discovery was made at all was a stroke of luck. Tests are performed on only a small portion of dead animals brought to the transfer facility near Hanford.

The cow had died at one of the region's hundreds of dairies, but hadn't exhibited outward symptoms of the disease: unsteadiness, incoordination, a drastic change in behavior or low milk production, officials said. But when the animal arrived at the facility with a truckload of other dead cows on April 18, its 30-month-plus age and fresh corpse made her eligible for USDA testing.

"We randomly pick a number of samples throughout the year, and this just happened to be one that we randomly sampled," Baker Commodities executive vice president Dennis Luckey said. "It showed no signs" of disease.

The samples went to the food safety lab at the University of California-Davis on April 18. By April 19, markers indicated the cow could have bovine spongiform enceph-alopathy, a disease that is fatal to cows and can cause a deadly human brain disease in people who eat tainted meat. It was sent to the USDA lab in Iowa for further testing.

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