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A farm cooperative in Ombetsu, eastern Hokkaido, said Wednesday that a cow confirmed Monday to be infected with mad cow disease was fed the same milk substitute when a calf as were the three other cows infected with the disease in Japan.

The agricultural cooperative said all four cows in Japan so far confirmed as having bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) had been fed milk substitute produced by Scientific Feed Laboratory Co. in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture.

According to the cooperative, the farmer in Ombetsu started feeding the cow with the milk substitute in 1996 when it was a week old.

The dairy farmer who raised the cow said he had purchased the milk substitute through the agricultural cooperative.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the milk substitute consumed by the first three cows contained an animal fat produced in the Netherlands, where 21 cases of BSE have been confirmed since 1997.

The ministry said it will investigate the milk substitute in the hope of tracing the infection route.

The Ombetsu farm cooperative also said it had sold in 1996 a feed blend which had almost the same ingredients as feed given to the first two BSE cows when they were calves.

The feed blend was produced at the factory in Kushiro, Hokkaido, of feed maker Hokuren Kumiai Shiryo, which was also producing feed for chickens and pigs, including meat-and-bone meal, on the same line producing feed for cows.

The farm ministry has said there is a possibility that meat-and-bone meal may have become mixed with the feed for cows. The farm ministry is investigating whether the feed blend was given to the cow found Monday to have BSE.

Cows are believed to contract the disease by eating meat-and-bone meal contaminated with BSE. But Japanese authorities have yet to detect the source of the domestic infections.

All four cows were born in March or April 1996, all in Hokkaido, except for the third cow, which was born in Gunma Prefecture.

The first case of the disease in Japan was confirmed last September in Chiba Prefecture, and the second and third in November.

The fourth cow — a 6-year-old Holstein — was born at the dairy farm in the town of Ombetsu on March 23, 1996, and was raised there, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

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