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The discovery of even a single case of mad cow disease can be economically devastating. Since May 2003, three cases of the prion disease have been found in Canadian cattle, prompting 34 countries to slam their doors to Canadian beef. Though about half have relented, the industry still lost more than $5.8 billion (US), largely in live-animal exports.

Because there is currently no reliable way to test an animal for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) antemortem, farmers with diseased animals must destroy entire herds. A live-animal test could thus prevent the needless slaughter of healthy animals – and reduce potential losses.

Two recent events suggest such a test could be forthcoming. First, Calgary-based Vacci-Test announced June 16 it would begin offering a live-animal field test by autumn. More recently, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) reported a test to detect prions in blood...

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