By MATT GOURAS/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Cattle industry spokesmen said Wednesday they're not worried that a link to the case of mad cow disease in Canada had been discovered in Montana.
''There is no need for immediate alarm or concern, because the cow herds that have been tested in Canada have all come back negative,'' said Steve Pilcher, executive secretary for the Montana Stockgrowers' Association.
''There's no indication that, because the cow was born in the same herd of those bulls that reached Montana, that there is any tie between them.''
On Wednesday, officials revealed that five bulls sold to a Montana rancher had either spent time in a herd with a Canadian cow that tested positive for the disease, or had spent time with that cow's offspring.
The five bulls have since been sent to slaughter.
Bob Lee, a rancher near Judith Gap in central Montana, said he doesn't have any concerns about the bulls' link to the cow.
''I'm just glad they can trace where the animals came from,'' he said. ''I think the American people can feel pretty confident with all the firewalls in place and the inspection services.''
Pilcher believes that the disposition of the bull carcasses will be known eventually, because the state keeps such good records on the livestock movement in Montana.
In 2002, Montana imported 13,500 cattle from Canada, officials said. The United States imports about 1.5 million from Canada each year.
''Those of us in the industry are not necessarily surprised that the investigation has spread into Montana because of the free flow of livestock across the border in both directions,'' Pilcher said.
He said the meat could not have reached the feed supply for cattle because all slaughtered livestock are inspected, and a disease such as BSE would be detected.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said a stringent U.S. inspection and monitoring program for detection of BSE leaves ''no reason to believe that any of the five bulls were infected or presented any risk to the nation's cattle herd or food supply.''
Congressman Denny Rehberg, R-Mont, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture knew of the discovery on Tuesday - and he is upset the American public had to wait a day to learn of the Montana link from Canadian authorities.
''I was outraged that the Canadians would call us and tell us that they would be having a press conference,'' he said.
Rehberg said he is going to push Congress to hold hearings on why the agency waited 24 hours to release the information.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he is asking the USDA to send a high-ranking official to Montana to help trace the Montana link to mad cow disease, and will push for detailed reports from the agency.
''The news today is cause for concern, because Montana's economy relies heavily on agriculture and livestock sales, but we must proceed with caution and rely on fact-based science,'' Baucus said.