15, 2003: There is an intergovernmental organization
based in Paris, France known as the OIE. Its guidelines are
the cause of the current turmoil among Canada's cattle farmers,
shepherds and some parts of our dairy sector.
OIE stands for Office International Des Epizooties. It's
easier to think of it as the World Organization for Animal
Health. It has been in existence since 1924, when 28 countries
signed an international agreement. Today 164 countries are
members of OIE.
Each member country undertakes to report the animal diseases
that it detects on its territory. Canada's final report to
the OIE on our one case of BSE, commonly know as mad cow disease,
states: "It is the considered opinion of the Government
of Canada that the animal was born in Canada and was exposed
to a contaminated feed source early in its life prior to the
feed ban introduced in 1997. The most likely source of contamination
of the feed was asymptomatic animals imported into North America
from the United Kingdom between 1982 and 1989 that entered
the food chain through natural attrition."
The OIE has developed a procedure that leads to official
recognition of member countries being free of certain animal
diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and rinderpest. In
the wake of the mad cow disease epidemic in Great Britain,
first diagnosed in 1986, an Ad hoc Group of the OIE has developed
guidelines for BSE-free recognition.
According to those guidelines, Canada lost its BSE-free status
on May 20 because of one infected cow in Alberta. As a result,
all our trading partners slammed their borders shut to all
ruminant animals and ruminant animal products from Canada.
Ad hoc guidelines developed in response to an outbreak of
epidemic proportions have been implemented holus-bolus in
response to one sick cow. The impact on Canadian agriculture,
not from the disease but from the OIE guidelines, is of epidemic
proportions. The Ad hoc Working Group's guidelines propose
that BSE-free recognition be withheld for seven years after
a country's last case of mad cow disease.
An independent international team of experts from the public
and animal health community of three continents has validated
Canada's findings about our one infected cow. There is nothing
more to be done - except open the borders.
And so it is encouraging that the United States has already
stepped away from the epidemic-based guidelines and created
a process by which some Canadian beef is again headed for
American dinner plates.
From a Canadian perspective, it is obvious that the OIE needs
to rethink its epidemic-based ad hoc guidelines before it
moves to adopt a formal BSE-free recognition process.
For general information about the OIE visit: www.oie.int/eng/oie/en_oie.htm.
The full text of Canada's final report can be found at: www.oie.int/eng/info/hebdo/AIS_06.HTM#Sec2.
Information on the number of reported cases of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) worldwide can be found at: www.oie.int/eng/info/en_esbmonde.htm.
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