February 7, 2005 (ENS): Four cases of mad cow
disease in cattle in Canada and the United States and
a single confirmed case in a goat in France should not
cause panic among consumers and producers, the United
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said
“The three cases in Canada and the one case in
the U.S. from an imported animal are isolated incidents,”
FAO animal production expert Andrew Speedy said in a
Formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE), the central nervous system disease is fatal in
adult cattle and was first diagnosed in cattle in 1986
in the United Kingdom.
Scientists believe it causes variant Creutzfeldt -
Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans through consumption of
contaminated beef products from infected cattle.
Monthly figures released today by the British National
Department of Health show that vCJD resulted in 148
deaths in the last 10 years. A recent case in Japan
involved the death of a man who had visited the UK.
Some consumer groups believe that the human form of
mad cow disease could be killing many more people than
statistics show. Michael Greger, M.D., writing today
for the Organic Consumers Association, said, "We
don't know exactly what's happening to the rate of CJD
in this country, in part because CJD is not an officially
notifiable illness. Currently only a few states have
such a requirement."
The FAO said that these latest cattle cases were detected
because of the testing procedures now in place. More
than 176,000 tests out of a total cattle population
of almost 95 million were carried out in the United
States and more than 21,000 out of 14.5 million cattle
in Canada during 2004.
Transmission is thought to be by oral ingestion of
animal feed containing BSE infected meat and bone meal.
A ban on feeding such matter has been in place in both
countries since 1997.
The new U.S. Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns
is adopting a similar position. Testifying February
3 before the Senate Agriculture Committee on the effects
mad cow disease, on U.S. imports and exports of cattle
and beef, Johanns said Canada has in place the two major
"firewalls" necessary to prevent the occurrence
of BSE and its spread to the United States.
Those safeguards are a ban on specified risk materials
(SRMs) - bovine tissues known to be at high risk for
carrying the agent of BSE - from entering the food supply
and a ban on ruminant material in cattle feed, he said.
He pointed out that ruminant feed bans of such materials
have been in effect in both the United States and Canada
These two measures, combined with U.S. domestic safeguards,
provide protections to U.S. consumer and livestock health
and justify a U.S. decision to allow resumption in March
7 of imports of live cattle younger than 30 months from
Canada into the United States, Johanns said.
The rule adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) in December 2004 classifying Canada as a "minimal
risk" country for BSE transmission is based on
a review of international science standards set by the
World Organization for Animal Health, the secretary
The USDA rule also is based on reports from a team of
U.S. animal and food safety scientists sent to Canada
after a second and third case of BSE were discovered
in the country in January in cows older than 30 months,
The secretary said he will continue to look at information
being sent back to the USDA from the technical team
still in Canada. The team is expected to submit a final
report on Canada's feed ban in mid-February and an epidemiological
report by the end of March, he said.
The ban on live cattle imports from Canada went into
effect after the country discovered its first case of
BSE in May 2003.
Johanns said that since USDA implemented an expanded
BSE testing program in early 2004, more than 200,000
head of cattle have been tested at slaughter and all
test results have been negative.
U.S. actions on BSE using science as a basis "are
potentially precedent-setting and could affect international
trade patterns for years to come," Johanns said.
"In the absence of that science, sanitary and
phytosanitary restrictions will be used arbitrarily
by many nations, without any basis of protecting human
or animal health," he said.
But a U.S. cattle producers' group that has filed suit
against the USDA to block removal of the ban on Canadian
beef imports says the agency is only adopting "part"
of the scientific standards recommended by the World
Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers
of America (R-CALF USA) said Friday, "USDA only
includes some high-risk tissues in its SRM removal plan
- fewer tissues than included in the standard risk-reduction
practices in the UK and the EU."
"USDA’s Final Rule does not begin removal
of SRMs at the age where OIE, the UK, and the EU consider
it necessary. USDA’s Final Rule requires SRM removal
only from cattle over 30 months of age, while European
countries require removal of SRMs in all cattle over
12 months of age. OIE recommends SRM removal from cattle
over six months of age for countries with the same disease
characteristics as Canada."
CEO of R-CALF Bill Bullard said, “The BSE standards
being incorporated by USDA are inferior to international
standards established by OIE, and far below the science-based
practices of countries that have successfully reduced
the incidence of BSE."
“Canada does not meet the definition of a minimal-risk
country, based on international guidelines, and this
is why 33 countries still ban Canadian beef. It’s
not clear why USDA should force U.S. consumers to be
exposed to risks that other countries protect their
citizens from,” said Bullard.
Under OIE guidelines, "Canada is a moderate-risk
BSE country," Bullard said, rather than a minimal
risk country as the USDA rule states.
Still, Johanns is determined to permit Canadian beef
to enter the United States, and he is pressing other
countries to reopen their borders to U.S. beef.
The secretary said he recently wrote to his counterpart
in Japan about Japan's continuing ban on some U.S. beef
imports despite the United States' having answered all
of that country's technical questions about the safety
of the U.S. food system.
In October 2004, Japan agreed to an interim program
to allow imports of U.S. beef from cows younger than
20 months. Japan imposed its ban on U.S. beef following
the discovery of a sole case of BSE in the United States
in December 2003.
Before the ban, Japan imported $1.5 billion of U.S.
beef products annually, Johanns said.
The United States is also in discussions with Korea,
Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Egypt and Russia about their
resumption of U.S. beef imports, he said.
U.S. actions on BSE, "are potentially precedent-setting
and could affect international trade patterns for years
to come," Johanns said.
The FAO recommended a "steady, scientific approach
to ensure that the disease is kept out of unaffected
countries." The UN agency suggests that "essential"
measures include identification of animals by use of
ear tags or electronic systems, national registration
and movement records, and compulsory testing of suspect
The agency is working with Swiss experts to train veterinary
staff in other countries, including Asia, Eastern Europe,
Latin America and the Near East, in methods of diagnosis,
surveillance and prevention.
Essential control measures also include the exclusion
of potentially infective materials from the feed chain
and improved practices in the rendering and feed industries.
The goat diagnosed with BSE in France on January 28
was the first food animal other than cattle to contract
the disease naturally. It was thought that sheep and
goats were only affected by scrapie which is distinguishable
from BSE and not thought to be transmissible to humans.
The EU member states last week decided to step up testing
for BSE in the European goat population. The testing
was proposed by the European Commission to determine
if this BSE case represents an isolated incident or
if further measures need to be taken.
Markos Kyprianou, EU Commissioner responsible for Health
and Consumer Protection, said, “Our priority is
to safeguard the health of Europe’s citizens and
I therefore want to act quickly to determine the significance
of this case. That is why we are significantly stepping
up the level of testing. We will monitor the situation
closely and review all the data and scientific advice
again in six months.”
The FAO stressed that this was one example in millions,
and the goat was born before Europe imposed a total
ban on feeding potentially infected meat and bone meal
to livestock in January 2001.
But for many people fears arise because of what is
not known. "The incubation period for human spongiform
encephalopathies such as CJD can be decades," writes
Greger. "This means it can be years between eating
infected meat and getting diagnosed with the death sentence
of CJD. Although only about 150 people have so far been
diagnosed with variant CJD worldwide, it will be many
years before the final death toll is known."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All