ROME, Italy, 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 statement.
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
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 since 1997.
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,
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, Johanns said.
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,
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
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
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,"
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 animals.
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
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
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."
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