OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, April 15, 2005 (ENS):
A coalition of Canadian ranchers is suing the federal
government for its "grossly negligent" role
in handling the crisis over mad cow disease that has
left the Canadian beef industry in shambles for close
to two years. The suit holds the government and a multinational
feed company responsible for more than C$7 billion in
"The loss of billions of dollars by the Canadian
cattle industry was the result of gross incompetence
and negligence on the part of the Canadian government,"
said a statement from the group, which filed the suit
on Monday. The coalition represents farmers in Alberta,
Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.
The lawsuit claims that Agriculture Canada failed to
consider safety issues when compiling a list of permitted
animal feed ingredients in 1988-1990 and lost track
of 80 cattle that had been imported from the UK and
Ireland, allowing them to be ground up into cattle feed.
As a result, the suit alleges that BSE infected a number
of Canadian cattle, which in turn led to devastating
consequences for the Canadian cattle industry.
While the suit does not name the exact amount of compensation
being sought, it does mention recent estimates that
the cattle industry has lost C$7 billion dollars since
May of 2003 when a cow in Alberta died of what was later
found to be bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE),
commonly called mad cow disease.
The United States immediately closed its border to
Canadian cattle and beef, and the border remains closed
In addition to the federal government, the claim also
targets Ridley Corporation Limited, a multinational
manufacturer of animal feeds. It argues that Ridley
apparently stopped using cattle remains in their parent
company's cattle feed in Australia in May of 1996, but
continued to use cattle remains in their Canadian feed
products until the practice was finally banned by the
government of Canada in August 1997.
The claim alleges that the diseased cow that caused
the closing of the U.S. border to Canadian cattle and
beef in May of 2003, contracted BSE in the spring of
1997 as a result of eating calf starter manufactured
by Ridley - starter which contained rendered cattle
remains contaminated with the BSE prion.
Prions - abnormally shaped proteins that originate
as regular components of neurological tissues in animals
- are not cellular organisms or viruses.
Mad cow disease spreads from one animal to another
by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by
these proteins, such as meat-and-bone meal, that contains
nervous system tissue from an infected animal. The human
form of the disease can be transmitted if a human being
eats BSE infected meat, or through blood transfusions.
"They were grossly negligent in not taking into
account the common knowledge and scientific knowledge
of how mad cow is transmitted," said Montreal lawyer
Gilles Gareau, who is leading the Quebec suit. "The
entire world knew about it."
A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell
in Ottawa said the government could not comment "until
there has been an opportunity to review the full statement
and assess the issues."
On March 29, Mitchell announced C$1 billion in immediate
federal assistance for cash-strapped Canadian farmers
facing record low farm incomes.
The $1 billion Farm Income Payment Program will supplement
current federal, provincial and territorial agriculture
programs that last year paid out a record C$4.9 billion
to farmers. The program will provide assistance to all
sectors but will be of greatest benefit to two of the
most affected, cattle and other ruminants and grains
In addition to their share of that payment, cattle
and ruminant producers will also receive C$155 million
in direct payments based on their inventory as of December
23, 2003 to deal with the income pressures created by
the ongoing closure of a number of borders to Canadian
live cattle and other ruminants.
"Maintaining cash flow is critical for livestock
and ruminant sectors as we wait for the re-opening of
the American border and as we work with governments
to reposition our sectors to recover from the current
crisis and build a strong and more resilient industry
for the future," said Canadian Cattlemen's Association
President Stan Eby.
Elsewhere, two former U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) veterinarians and a scientist still working at
the USDA have charged that at least two 1997 investigations
of sick animals were not performed properly, and mad
cow disease may have gotten into the human food chain
as a result.
Dr. Masuo Doi, a retired USDA veterinarian, Dr. Karl
Langheindrich, chief scientist at the USDA laboratory
in Athens, Georgia, and Lester Friedlander, a former
veterinarian and USDA inspector who was fired in 1995
after allegedly criticizing safety practices within
the inspection system, have all made charges that USDA
fumbled two tests that might have confirmed the cases
Friedlander offered on Tuesday to take a lie detector
test after his allegations were met with disbelief.
In another recent event, an animal in St. Angelo, Texas
which showed the standard symptoms of mad cow disease
was not tested by agricultural inspectors before it
was sent to a rendering facility.
USDA spokesman Ed Loyd admits that the Texas case was
a mistake due to a "miscommunication" between
two government agencies. He said the animal was rendered,
but the products never entered the human food supply.
When the only acknowleged U.S. case of mad cow disease
came to light in December 2003, more than 40 countries
closed their borders to U.S. beef and live animals,
causing the same kind of pain in the U.S. cattle industry
that Canadian cattlemen had been suffering.
Late last December, the USDA attempted to reopen its
beef trade to Canada by declaring its neighbor to the
north a "minimal risk" area. But within a
week Canadians had found two more mad cows, shaking
confidence in the minimal risk designation.
The U.S. and Canada have put rules in place that they
say will keep nervous system tissue, most likely to
spread the fatal, brain wasting disease, out of the
food chain. Earlier this month those standards were
harmonized with those of Mexico, so now the three NAFTA
countries have agreed to identical practices.
Over the past several weeks, former customers have
been trickling back to the U.S. beef market - first
Egypt, then Taiwan. But Japan has not returned and that
is a big portion of the former market for U.S. beef.
The Japanese test every single animal they slaughter
for mad cow disease and they want the U.S. states to
adopt the same standard for beef sold to Japan. To date,
the USDA has not agreed.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns of Nebraska has
been on the job just over two months, but so much of
his time has been devoted to the BSE crisis, that he
jokingly called himself the Secretary of BSE on Wednesday
in his remarks to the 13th annual Food and Agriculture
Policy Conference in Washington.
He told the delegates exactly what he told the Senate
Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this
week, "We tested now, in about the last year, 314,000
animals, and we have not found another case of BSE.
Americans rightly feel safe about eating our beef products.
My job is to help move that forward and to even increase
the confidence that our consumers have in this product."
"Human health and animal health will always be
our top priority. But in order to make sure that we
are protecting human health and animal health, our decisions
need to be based upon sound science. It is absolutely
critical. It cannot be moved by the politics of the
day in any country. In any country," said Johanns.
He said the science is "clearly on our side of
"We are also working to reopen the Canadian border,"
said Johanns. "I believe that restoring trade with
Canada is in the best interest of American consumers,
but it is also in the very best interest of this great
industry, the beef industry in our nation."
"I am disappointed by the events recently, but
we're going to continue to work at our goal of resuming
normal trade relations in beef. The Senate voted to
disapprove the [minimal risk] rule that would have reopened
the border. That's only a piece of the process, but
it was disappointing. The court injunction was entered,
and we're doing everything we can to work through that.
In fact, that is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit
Court of Appeals. We are appealing that injunction."
So, the mad cow situation is now mired in the courts.
While the court deliberates, everyone is hoping that
all cows on both sides of the border stay healthy so
that the industry can recover.