MABTON, Wash. – Residents of this tiny south central Washington town rallied around neighboring dairy owners as news leaked that a local farm was the source of what could be the nation's first case of mad cow disease (search).
There are about eight dairy farms in Mabton (search) -- population 2,045 -- and dozens more in the surrounding area. A government source familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that the cow came from Sunny Dene Ranch (search) in Mabton.
Mayor David Conradt said he did not expect "any financial hit" to the town, as long as the disease is limited to one cow. "The impact, I hope, is going to be minimal," he said. Locals were unwilling to discuss the matter with reporters, who were turned away from businesses and farms.
Sid Wavrin (search), who identified himself as the owner of the Sunny Dene Ranch, declined to comment when contacted by The AP. Sunny Dene has operations in Mabton and nearby Grandview. William Wavrin, who also is listed by the state Department of Agriculture on registration documents for Sunny Dene, did not return a call for comment.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman (search) announced Tuesday that a single Holstein from a farm near the town, about 40 miles southeast of Yakima, likely had mad cow disease. If confirmed by follow-up tests at a lab near London, the case would be the first in U.S. history.
The case quickly affected at least one company associated with the slaughtered cow. Supermarket giant Safeway Inc. said it has stopped selling all fresh ground beef products from an Oregon supplier that received meat from the affected cow.
Outside the Sunny Dene dairy, police warned that anyone entering property without permission would be arrested for trespassing, so reporters lined up alongside a road that separates the farm and the Yakama Indian Reservation. A sign at the farm read "Private Property."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the cow was slaughtered at Vern's Moses Lake Meat, Inc., in Moses Lake, about 70 miles northeast of Mabton, on Dec. 9, after she became paralyzed, apparently as a result of calving.
The USDA said Vern's was voluntarily recalling about 10,410 pounds of raw beef, but the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service said there was an "extremely low likelihood" that the recalled beef contains the infectious agent that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Tom Ellestad, co-manager of Vern's Moses Lake Meat, told the Columbia Basin Herald in Moses Lake that he remains confident in the inspection system that led to the discovery. "We have done nothing wrong," he told the newspaper. "The inspection system works because we caught this cow."
The USDA said the slaughtered cow was deboned at Midway Meats in Centralia, and the meat -- though no contaminated spinal or brain tissue -- was sent to two other plants in the region, identified as Willamette and Interstate Meat.
Safeway, which has sold fresh ground beef products from Interstate Meat Distributors Inc. of suburban Portland, Ore., said Wednesday that it will stop doing so and will look for another supplier.
"We're doing this voluntarily out of an abundance of caution," Safeway spokeswoman Bridget Flanagan said.
Interstate spokesman Quint Daggett said Wednesday that the USDA had told the business to refer all calls to the agency.
Messages left at Midway Meats were not returned. Jeff Kline, spokesman for Willamette Valley Meat in Portland, Ore., refused to comment.