WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration wants to end remaining mad cow disease-related restrictions on Canadian cattle, despite two fresh cases there.

The new cases have slowed the effort, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns acknowledged Thursday.

Still, “we here at USDA are very committed to this,” Johanns said during a news conference with Canada’s new agriculture minister, Chuck Strahl.

“I want to make sure it’s done right, first and foremost,” Johanns said. “I want to make sure it will withstand not only our rigorous internal challenges but challenges that can come from court cases.”

Johanns says rules for how cattle are slaughtered would keep mad cow disease from entering the food supply for people or animals. He had hoped to finish the rule-making process by the end of the year but said Thursday it might take longer.

The United States restricted cattle and beef shipments in 2003, when Canada found its first case of mad cow disease.

The department eased restrictions last year – after a court battle with a Western ranchers’ group that wanted the border kept closed – to let younger cattle enter the United States.

But a ban has remained on Canadian cattle older than 30 months. The age cutoff is because scientists think infection levels in cattle increase with age.

Canada has found five cows infected with mad cow disease. The newest cases were confirmed Sunday and in January.

Those cases raise questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s primary firewall against mad cow disease, a ban on ground-up cattle remains in cattle feed. The disease is believed to spread only when cattle eat feed containing diseased cattle tissue.

Both animals were about 6 years old, born well after Canada created its feed ban in 1997.

So far this year, Canada has shipped 386,071 cattle into the United States, according to Agriculture Department reports.

Mad cow disease is known medically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Eating meat products contaminated with BSE is linked to more than 150 human deaths worldwide, mostly in Britain, from a deadly human nerve disorder, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The United States has had three cases of mad cow disease. The first was found in December 2003 in a Washington state cow that had been imported from Canada. The second was confirmed last June in a Texas-born cow. The third was confirmed last month in an Alabama cow.

On the Net:

Agriculture Department: http://www.usda.gov

Canadian Food Inspection Agency: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/

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