19, 2004: Fifty students have enrolled in the University
of Connecticut's newest class - a one-credit course: "Cows:
Mad and Otherwise." It deals with the science of BSE
and the big picture issues of politics, economics, health
and sociology. The course text is Philip Yam's book, "The
Pathological Protein: Mad Cow, Chronic Wasting and Other Deadly
Prion Diseases." L. Cameron Faustman, head of the
animal science department, started the class because, "It
was a very contemporary issue that is multifaceted."
Right, BSE is multifaceted and a conundrum.
Some things are obvious - just not easy. There is no substitute
for modifying the World Organization for Animal Health's ad
hoc guidelines designed to deal with an outbreak of epidemic
proportions in the U.K. We need binding international rules
that make sense for countries with an incidental occurrence
The Canadian cattle herd needs to shrink. Instead it is growing.
Destroying healthy animals is a public relations nightmare.
Donating livestock meat to food banks or low-income countries
is out. All hook spaces in our slaughtering facilities are
needed for those animals with a chance of providing some return
to cattlemen. Canada's livestock identification system needs
improvement but that is cost to the system. There are no benefits
until the next infectious disease hits.
Some things are worth doing - even though they are only band-aids.
The latest Cull Animal Program, a one-time, per-head payment
to producers, is a worthy attempt to increase the rate of
slaughter of cull animals. In due time, the Canada Agricultural
Income Stabilization program will shore up farmer income,
but the problem remains.
Some things will clearly help - it just won't be enough.
Expanding the slaughter of cull cattle is an excellent place
for government investment. Entrepreneurs upgrading slaughter
capacity will need very creative farmer loyalty programs to
survive the rising Canadian dollar and the return of competition
once border trade normalizes. We need to develop a whole herd
buyout program. The Americans have used buyouts to manage
milk production. Buying out whole herds of beef cows has an
excellent chance of shrinking the national herd.
Finally, should we test more cattle for BSE? Our best science
says; take the risky material out of the food and feed chain
and there is no risk. I accept that the evidence leads to
this scientific conclusion, but marketing beef is not about
science. I'm with Cameron Faustman at the University of Connecticut.
He is teaching the science of BSE but will spend just as much
time, if not more, on politics, economics, health and sociology.
BSE is multifaceted. If Japan commits to opening their market
if we test all animals destined for their market , we should
For the course posting visit: www.canr.uconn.edu/ansci/298.pdf
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