The trouble began on a ranch in Floresville, Texas. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered more than a thousand head of cattle quarantined after a Purina Mills plant admitted this week it mistakenly shipped the ranch a feed supplement that included processed beef parts.
"Shortly after it was unloaded, we had a call from Purina saying that there may have been a mixing error in the supplement--and don't feed it," says K.T. Brown, owner of Vasqueros of Texas Cattle Feeders.
Now the government is investigating whether Purina violated federal rules designed to prevent the transmission of mad cow disease. Purina says it was all a mistake.
"Once we detected this problem, we immediately acted and put a recall on the product just to be safe," says a Purina spokesperson.
Purina reported its mistake, but the FDA says hundreds of feed makers have violated the rules that prevent cattle from getting feed that includes parts of slaughtered cows.
In an effort to prevent mad cow disease from infecting US beef, US feed manufacturers are forbidden to include products containing slaughtered cows in food to be consumed by cattle and sheep.
First discovered in England, mad cow disease is blamed for more than 80 deaths there. It's believed to be spread by the practice of turning the by-products of beef slaughterhouses into cattle feed. The disease spreads to humans when they eat beef from infected cattle.
But consumers want to know one thing: Is it safe to eat beef? "Yes, it's safe to eat beef in the United States. We have no evidence of the disease in the country," says Dr. Linda Detwiler, an inspector with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Detwiler says America learned from Europe's mistakes with mad cow disease, also known as BSE, which stands for bovine spongioform encephalopathy.
"Given the regulations and conditions in the US, it's unlikely that the US would experience an epidemic of BSE," Detwiler says.
But the cattle industry, worried about consumer confidence, is meeting with government officials in Washington next week to insure even tougher enforcement.
"We want to make sure that everyone is doing everything that's necessary to ensure the safety of the product as it goes to consumers," says Chuck Schroeder of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
And they want consumers, who spent $53 billion on beef last year, to have faith in their product.
©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed