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Friday, January 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Cattle heads, other parts star in ethnic specialties

By The Associated Press

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SUNNYSIDE, Yakima County — Demand for cattle heads, popular Hispanic holiday fare, likely won't be slowed by a federal ban on selling heads and other parts of cows older than 30 months, a health expert says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday announced a ban on selling skulls, brains, vertebrae and eyes of cattle older than 30 months after the discovery of mad-cow disease in a dairy cow from a Mabton farm. The origin of the 6-1/2-year-old cow has been traced to Canada.

The ban probably won't prevent consumers from buying exotic cattle parts for specialty ethnic dishes, but consuming them could pose a slightly higher risk, said Dr. Harvey Crowder, of the Benton-Franklin Health District.

"I'm not sure how much longer these ethnic foods will be available," he said. "We'll have to watch and see."

Federal meat inspectors also have determined that none of the U.S. beef recalled because of mad-cow disease had been sent to markets in Hawaii or Guam.

A 10,000-pound shipment of potentially tainted beef was thought to have been sent to Guam, Hawaii and seven other states.

But after reviewing shipping records, inspectors found Hawaii and Guam had not received any of the recalled meat, said Daniel Puzo, a spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Most of the meat was sent to markets in Washington and Oregon. All of the meat has been accounted for.

The meat scare has not stopped sales of cattle heads, however. At The Valley's Market in Sunnyside, about 40 cattle heads were sold the week before Christmas.

Travis Hamm, manager of the market's meat department, said he normally doesn't keep the heads on hand but orders them during the holidays to supply the large Hispanic population in the region.

The skinless heads, with brains intact, are traditionally wrapped in burlap bags, seasoned with onions, garlic and cilantro and roasted or steamed to make the Mexican specialty barbacoa.

Rob Martin, owner of the Sunnyside store, one in Pasco and another in Cashmere, Chelan County, said after the case of mad-cow disease was reported, he received several calls from customers questioning where his beef is purchased.

Crowder said the potential for humans to contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of the disease, is "incredibly low" even for those exposed by eating infected beef. But to those who eat beef, he said, "I would advise caution."

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