WASHINGTON, DC, January
4, 2005: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has
confirmed that a dairy cow from Alberta has tested positive for
bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), usually called mad cow disease,
just four days after the United States lifted a mad cow ban on the
import of Canadian beef. "No part of the animal entered the
human food or animal feed systems," the CFIA said in Ottawa.
"This finding does not indicate an increased risk to food safety."
This identification of this diseased animal did not cause the U.S.
government to reverse its decision to lift an 19 month import ban
and allow Canadian beef to cross the border in March, a move announced
announced December 29, 2004 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
The USDA imposed a ban on the import of Canadian beef in May 2003
after the first native Canadian case of mad cow disease was identified,
also on an Alberta farm.
Removal of the import ban is based on a new final rule defining
"minimal risk regions for BSE, along with the classification
of Canada as the first minimal risk region under the rule,"
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced.
But American cattlemen say removal of the import ban is premature
and they are asking that the new rule be withdrawn immediately.
"There is a serious BSE problem in Canada and there has been
no comparable problem in the United States," said Bill Bullard,
CEO of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers
of America (R-CALF USA).
"USDA must require Canada to begin mandatory BSE testing for
all Canadian cattle over 20 months of age, so the prevalence of
BSE in native Canadian cattle can be determined and appropriate
steps taken to help Canada eradicate BSE from its cattle herd, rather
than to put our consumers at risk or risk spreading the disease
to the U.S. cattle herd," he demanded.
Based in Billings, Montana, R-CALF represents thousands of U.S.
cattle producers on domestic and international trade and marketing
But USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator
Ron DeHaven said Monday that the USDA "remains confident that
the animal and public health measures that Canada has in place,"
ensure the safety for U.S. meat eaters and livestock.
"The extensive risk assessment conducted as part of USDA's
rulemaking process took into careful consideration the possibility
that Canada could experience additional cases of BSE," said
DeHaven, a veterinarian.
"Confirming BSE in this animal is not unexpected," the
CFIA also said.
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as mad cow disease
and its human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), are
spread by prions - abnormally shaped proteins that originate as
regular components of neurological tissues in animals such as the
brain and spinal cord. They are not bacteria or viruses.
Mad cow disease spreads from one animal to another by consumption
of feed that has been contaminated by these proteins, such as blood
or meat meal that contains nervous system tissue from an infected
animal. In 1997, a ban on cattle feed containing blood or meat meal
was put in place in Canada and in the United States to contain the
possible spread of BSE.
The infected animal identified on Sunday was born in 1996, prior
to the introduction of the 1997 feed ban, the Canadian agency said
on December 30, explaining, "It is suspected that the animal
became infected by contaminated feed before the feed ban."
Canada's public health safeguards have been developed on the assumption
that a low, declining level of BSE remains in North America, the
Canada requires the removal of specified risk material from all
animals entering the human food supply, saying that this measure
is internationally recognized as the most effective means to protect
public health from BSE.
In addition to the removal of specified risk materials and the feed
ban, Canada has in place a national surveillance program and import
restrictions. The infected animal was detected through the recently
enhanced national surveillance program, the CFIA said. "Additional
cases may be found as testing of high-risk cattle continues."
As a result, the United States continues to consider Canada as
a minimal risk region. As stated in the United States Department
of Agriculture press release of December 30, 2004, the United States
will not alter the implementation of its minimal risk rule that
opens the door to resume trade with Canada.
"According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
guidelines, a country may be considered a BSE minimal-risk country
if it has less than two cases per million cattle over 24 months
of age during each of the previous four consecutive years,"
explained the USDA's DeHaven.
"Considering Canada has roughly 5.5 million cattle over 24
months of age, under OIE guidelines, they could detect up to 11
cases of BSE in this population and still be considered a minimal-risk
country, as long as their risk mitigation measures and other preventative
measures were effective," DeHaven said.
But American cattlemen are not satisfied with this explanation.
“Based on USDA’s own description of the incubation
period for BSE, this native Canadian cow most likely became infected
with BSE after Canada implemented its meat-and-bone meal (MBM) feed
ban in 1997, suggesting that Canada’s MBM feed ban was not
enforced,” said Bullard.
They assert that on December 31, the CFIA "confirmed that
the infected Canadian cow was only eight years old."
However, a statement by the CFIA on January 2 again says, "The
infected animal was born in 1996, prior to the introduction of the
1997 feed ban."
Still the American cattlemen are worried. “This is the third
confirmed case of BSE in native Canadian cattle found in less than
two years, and all three native Canadian BSE-infected cattle were
found using only very limited BSE testing,” Bullard said.
“It is critically important for everyone to understand this
is Canada’s third publicly acknowledged case of BSE in a native
Canadian cow in the past 20 months, not its second case,”
“The United States has never detected a BSE-positive animal
in our domestic cattle herd," he said. "U.S. cattle producers
are asking the media to help correct the misperception that the
United States has ever had a case of BSE in our native cattle herd.
The BSE cow found in the U.S. in December 2003 was not part of the
U.S. native cattle herd, but was a cow imported from Canada’s
native cattle herd."
Bullard says his membership believes that "the true prevalence
of BSE in Canada is likely to be much higher than previously assumed,
and USDA is dangerously premature in its efforts to relax U.S. health
and safety standards by forcing Canadian cattle under 30 months
of age – and Canadian beef from cattle of all ages –
to be allowed into the U.S. beginning March 7th.”
“We are deeply concerned that despite the known and expanding
prevalence of BSE within its domestic cattle herd, Canada continues
testing only cattle that already exhibit BSE disease symptoms,”
"We believe Canada should follow a much more rigorous testing
program to determine the prevalence of BSE in its cattle herd to
protect its consumers and to prevent the spread of this disease,"
The CFIA is continuing its investigation and has determined the
infected animal's farm of origin. Efforts are now underway to identify
any other animals of similar risk.
Specifically, the agency is focusing on two categories of animals:
recently born offspring of the infected animal and cattle born on
the same farm within a year of the infected animal.
The agency has also launched a feed investigation "to examine
what the infected animal was fed early in its life, when infection
was most likely to have occurred prior to the 1997 feed ban."
Given the age of the animal, it may not be possible to definitively
identify a particular feed source as the origin of infection, the
CFIA said. However, said the agency "information gathered through
investigations and analyses continues to suggest that the feed ban
has limited the spread of BSE since its implementation."
Canada discovered its first clinical case of BSE in 1993 when a
cow imported from Great Britain in 1987 tested positive for the
In 1989, Canada banned import of cattle from the United Kingdom
and traced all imported cattle to their Canadian farms of origin,
where they were monitored and eventually destroyed. "Before
this time, when BSE had not emerged as a significant animal health
threat, it is likely that some imported animals entered the North
American feed system," the CFIA acknowledged.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All Rights Reserved.