By BETSY BLANEY
Associated Press Writer
Cattle producers anxiously await test results on another suspected case of mad cow disease in the United States, this time involving an animal possibly from Texas.
U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced late last week that test results showed a ''weak positive'' for mad cow on an animal cleared of infection in November. It could be two weeks before results of additional tests on tissue samples sent to a lab in England are announced.
''The anticipation and emotions that come with it are scary, especially when it's your livelihood,'' Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas spokesman Shane Sklar said. ''And our folks have to wait on pins and needles until the results come back.''
Jim Rogers, spokesman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, on Tuesday discounted published reports that the cow was from Texas, the nation's leading cattle producing state.
Regardless, the cattle market's potential volatility keeps producers and producer groups on edge. Cattle futures sustained moderate losses Monday, the first trading day since agriculture officials made their announcement.
Prices rebounded slightly Tuesday, however. The average gain was about a third of the $1.77 per hundred pounds lost Monday, said Jim Gill, market director for the Amarillo-based Texas Cattle Feeders Association.
The one-day rebound doesn't eliminate concerns producers have, said Burt Rutherford, spokesman for the feeders association.
''Our concern is the length of time the USDA is talking about getting the results back and the uncertainty the marketplace is going to have to deal with these next two weeks,'' he said.
After a Holstein in Washington state was confirmed to be infected in December 2003, the markets were volatile for a couple of weeks.
''Then it kind of righted itself,'' Rutherford said. ''We'll see if that holds true here. I tend to suspect that it probably will.''
That's little consolation to Kevin Crooks, a rancher northeast of Tulia who said he lost about $10,000 when he sold 650 cattle Monday at the Tulia Livestock Auction. Each animal went for $15 to $20 less per hundred pounds than what he could have earned before the USDA announcement.
''They just drive the markets wild, which I don't like, and you can't plan for it,'' Crooks said. ''It just drives you crazy.''
The animal being retested was a downer cow - one that couldn't walk or stand on its own - born before a ruminant feed ban was implemented in 1997. The USDA banned the use of meat from downers about a week after the Washington Holstein became the first confirmed mad cow case in the U.S. That cow came from Canada.
Mad cow disease, which attacks an animal's nervous system, is also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. People who eat food contaminated with mad cow can contract a rare disease that is nearly always fatal, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Matt Brockman, spokesman for the Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said he didn't foresee nail-biting about the test results.
''Not any more than the nail-biting they'll do related to other factors that may impact the market or their bottom line, like weather,'' he said. ''In the big scheme of things, there's a lot more a rancher sitting down to breakfast has to worry about. This is just one of several.''
Some producers wonder why the USDA had the cow retested after previous tests came back negative.
''It appears to me if the sample was negative in November, it's still negative,'' said Tim Wilhelm, part owner of the Tulia Livestock Auction. ''It should have never been retested.''
Kevin Buse, general manager at Champions Feedyard in the Panhandle town of Hereford, said it's frustrating to have to wait two weeks. But he advised patience.
''The best thing we can do is keep cool heads,'' Buse said. ''You can't stop commerce with something like this, but you'd sure like to have all the facts.''