World needs more common sense in mad cow guidelines

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

Do any of the issues listed in this column resonate with you, or are there other wishes you'd like to share? Send them to us now, and we'll post them on the web site later.



September 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.




Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post has an email subscriber list of more than 3,000 and appears regularly on @g Worldwide Correspondents at www.agriculture.com/worldwide/correspondents/index.html. Corner Post is archived at www.christianfarmers.org/commentary/Corner-Post.htm. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.