OMAHA, Neb. (AP)--Word of a new case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Canada has the state's top agriculture official hedging on his support of the federal government's decision to import Canadian beef starting in March.

Director of Agriculture Merlyn Carlson said the latest case of a cow with the neurological disease has "caused me to pause and reconsider my support."

In early January he continued to back the decision to open the nation's borders to Canadian cattle, even as confirmation came of a second BSE case in Canada.

Canadian authorities Jan. 11 confirmed another BSE case--bringing the total to three.

Carlson said the government must proceed with caution.

"We need more discussion. We need to look at the scientific protocol," Carlson told The Associated Press.

Carlson said he backs the U.S. Department of Agriculture's decision to send a group to Canada to evaluate the latest case, which was found in Alberta.

No Canadian cows have crossed the border since the summer of 2003, when a cow in northern Alberta tested positive for BSE.

In December, the U.S. government announced it would re-establish cattle trade with Canada, even as another case of the disease was confirmed.

Members of the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association question that decision. Executive director Michael Kelsey said the group will hold four hearings next week so members can voice concerns about the group's policy. That policy currently supports opening the border only if certain scientific methods are met and cattle 30 months of age and younger are imported.

If their criteria are not met, the group could change its policy at the February national convention in San Antonio, Kelsey said.

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