USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times lead with the first suspected case of mad cow disease in the United States. A sick cow slaughtered two weeks ago near Yakima, Wash., tested positive for the disease in preliminary lab results, well after its meat had been routed to processing facilities. But Department of Agriculture officials, who are expected to announce a voluntary recall on beef from those plants, insisted the nation's food supply remains untainted. The Washington Post leads with the sentencing of convicted sniper Lee Malvo. A Virginia jury sentenced the 18-year-old to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the attacks that killed 10 people last year—rejecting the death penalty largely because of his age.
According to the papers, the disease warning signs showed up when the infected dairy cow was sent to slaughter on Dec. 9. Inspectors described the cow as a "downer" before it was killed—meaning that it was unable to move on its own. Officials wouldn't comment on precisely why the animal was immobile, the WP says, but experts say there could be any number of reasons, including old age, injuries, or disease.
Under law, inspectors at slaughterhouses are supposed to weed out cattle that have trouble walking and rule cows with apparent brain disorders unfit for human consumption. Sick cows would then be sent to a rendering plant. And that appears to have happened in this case. According to the NYT, scientists took samples of the infected cow's tissue, to test for disease, while its brain and spinal cord—described as the "infectious" parts by Ag. Secretary Ann Veneman—were sent on to be turned into protein feed and oil. As a result, "we believe the risk to human health is very low," Veneman said.
But that doesn't mean there's no chance of the infected matter making it into the food supply, critics tell the NYT. While it's illegal to feed protein made from cows to other cows, there's no rule against feeding that rendered protein to pigs, chickens, and other animals, the paper says. Those animals, in turn, could be rendered and fed to cows, and, well, you get the picture.
The economic effects on the U.S. cattle industry will likely outweigh the health implications, the Wall Street Journal notes. Not only will the food and restaurant industries have to deal with consumer fear of eating beef—a fear that depressed European beef sales for years—but Japan and South Korea announced yesterday that they would temporarily block imports of American beef, which could prompt other trade partners to soon follow suit, the paper says.
Just about everybody fronts word of continued security increases in light of the increased terror threats. The LAT goes high with word that Los Angeles International Airport raised its security to its highest level since the 9/11 attacks yesterday, prohibiting curbside drop-offs or check-ins. Instead, passengers will have to unload at the airport's parking garages.
On the investigation front, the LAT notes that federal grand jury subpoenas have been issued for "local transportation companies" as part of the FBI's investigation into the latest al-Qaida threats. But the paper prints no other details on that front. Meanwhile, the story notes—as does a similar WP Page One piece—that U.S. officials are starting to worry about flight crews for foreign-based airlines who may be sympathetic to and possibly working with al-Qaida. According to the WP, a small number of foreign flight crews have already been questioned after their names appeared to be similar to those on the FBI's terror watch list. No word on the air carriers involved, though federal officials did say there have been no arrests.
An internal White House advisory board has determined that President Bush blew it when he talked up Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain nuclear materials in this year's State of the Union address, the WP reports. The Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board—chaired by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft—found there was no "deliberate effort to fabricate" claims that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Niger. Yet the board found that the White House was so anxious "to grab onto something affirmative" that it disregarded warnings that the claim was questionable.
The LAT stuffs word from government officials in Pakistan, who admitted there may be some truth to those allegations of nuclear ties between their country and Iran. While Pakistan has never officially condoned the transfer of nuclear technology to other countries, some individuals may have passed on the info out of greed, officials said.
The NYT fronts a brief mention and everybody else goes inside with violence along the Gaza Strip yesterday. At least eight Palestinians were killed and 30 injured when Israeli troops entered a refugee camp looking for arms-smuggling tunnels. It was the most severe outbreak of violence there in more than two months.
Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers in Iraq detained more than a dozen rebel suspects yesterday, including associates of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former Saddam associate who is suspected of leading the insurgency in Iraq, according to wire reports.
On the campaign front, everybody stuffs word that John Kerry took out a $6.4 million loan against his Boston home in an effort to infuse his struggling campaign with additional cash on the eve of primary season. Meanwhile, the LAT's Ron Brownstein writes up the war of words between Howard Dean and centrist Democrats—or as Dean has taken to calling Bill Clinton's faction of the party, "the Republican wing of the Democratic Party."
Finally, it seems that President Bush isn't very forgiving—unless you're a Thanksgiving turkey. So far in his term, the president has pardoned only 11 people (up that to 17, if you want to count the turkeys), making him the least "pardon-friendly" president on average of all time, according to the WSJ. At this point in their terms, Bill Clinton had pardoned 56 people; Daddy Bush, 39; and Ronald Reagan, 181. Lyndon Johnson, meanwhile, had pardoned 925 people by the 35th month of his term.