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
"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," he said.
In the minimal risk rule announced December 29, 2004, the USDA
said Canada has safeguards in place that minimize the risk of spreading
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
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 risk rule.
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
"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 of February.
“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 Republican.
"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.”
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