OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, January 12, 2005 (ENS):
A third mad cow has been identified in Alberta less
than two weeks after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
(CFIA) revealed that an eight year old animal had tested
positive for the fatal brain wasting disease. The discovery
has raised new beef safety questions south of the border,
prompting Congressional hearings and a technical investigation
into Canadian beef industry practices.
This is the second infected Alberta cow discovered
since the United States said December 29 that its import
ban on Canadian beef would be lifted under a new rule
that classifies Canada as a "minimal risk"
country for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE),
more usually called mad cow disease.
The finding shakes Canadian hopes that the lucrative
beef trade with the United States will resume in March
when the ban is scheduled to be lifted. Trying to reassure
the public, the CFIA said, "No part of the animal
has entered the human food or animal feed systems."
Still, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials
said they would "expedite sending a technical team
to Canada to evaluate the circumstances surrounding
these recent finds," despite statements of safety
assurance from the agency and the Canadian cattle industry.
"As always, protection of public and animal health
is our top priority," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator
of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
"The result of our investigation and analysis
will be used to evaluate appropriate next steps in regard
to the minimal risk rule published last week,"
In the minimal risk rule announced December 29, 2004,
the USDA said Canada has safeguards in place that minimize
the risk of spreading BSE.
These safeguards include a ban on feeding parts of
ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and goats to other
cattle, known as the ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban.
Both the United States and Canada imposed this ban in
The infected cow announced Tuesday was born after the
1997 feed ban was put in place, raising questions about
the effectiveness of this ban.
DeHaven said the U.S. technical team would investigate
"since this animal was born shortly after the implementation
of Canada's feed ban and to determine if there are any
potential links among the positive animals."
The BSE infectious agent is a misfolded protein known
as a prion that can be present in the brains, spinal
cords and intestines of infected animals. To prevent
spread of the disease, these parts, known as specified
risk materials must be removed from animals older than
30 months before they are used as human food.
The existence of these two safeguards in Canada are
behind the USDA's decision to call Canada a minimal
risk country and announce that the ban on import of
Canadian beef from animals older than 30 months would
be lifted on March 7.
The ban was imposed in May 2003 when Canada revealed
its first native case of mad cow disease. A previous
case was found in 1989 in a cow imported from the UK
where BSE infected hundreds of thousands of head of
cattle in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The Canadian Cattlemen's Association attempted to reassure
people on both sides of the border that the additional
diagnosis of BSE in an Alberta cow "falls within
expected parameters and does not change Canada's status
as a minimal risk country."
The surveillance being carried out is well above the
level recommended by the World Animal Health Organization
(OIE), the Canadian industry association said, and the
"two diagnoses within the past two weeks indicate
that the surveillance program is successfully finding
any BSE cases that may exist."
The level of BSE in the Canadian herd is low and continues
to decline as a result of the ruminant-to-ruminant feed
ban introduced in 1997, the Canadian cattlemen said.
The feed ban began in August 1997, but there was no
recall issued at that time on feed ingredients already
in the system, the Canadian association said, explaining
that the March 1998 birth date of the newly announced
BSE case "is likely the result of exposure to pre-feed
ban feed that was still residual in the system and does
not indicate a lack of feed ban compliance at this stage
of the investigation."
But at least one group of American cattle producers
is taking legal action to keep the import ban in place.
The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers
of America (R-CALF USA) filed suit Monday in U.S. District
Court asking the court to overturn the USDA's minimal
R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard said Tuesday that his organization
presented "scientific evidence" to the USDA
in December 2004 that suggest that "Canada has
a greater BSE problem than what they have led us to
believe, and this latest case of BSE proves that our
position is correct, and that this rule should be withdrawn."
Canada is only removing specified risk materials from
animals older than 30 months of age, said Bullard, but
according to standards established by the World Animal
Health Organization, Canada should be removing these
materials from animals older than six months of age.
"The only responsible course of action for USDA,
given this new finding, is to immediately withdraw the
final rule," said Bullard. "Should USDA fail
to withdraw the Final Rule, R-CALF is asking that Congress
use its authority to reject the rule completely.”
The minimal risk rule is now under a 60 day congressional
review, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby
Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said his committee
would hold hearings on the rule during the first week
“The Canadian government’s announcement
today confirming a second case in a month of BSE from
a Canadian born cow raises some serious questions regarding
Canada’s compliance with its feed ban,”
Chambliss said Tuesday.
“Today’s discovery is a real signal that
we need to pull the new rule that is set to open the
border to Canadian beef in March,” said Montana
Senator Conrad Burns on Tuesday.
“Until we move forward with the pending hearings
in the Ag Committee, and until we do some more investigation
into this situation, I do not feel that going ahead
with this rule is a smart move," said Burns, a
"The flaws in this rule could harm not only our
Montana producers, but also consumer confidence and
our international markets," Burns said. "This
is a huge issue, and we cannot afford to move hastily
when moving forward may have an incredibly negative
impact on our country.”
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All