Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Mad cow disease confirmed in Alberta; 1st case in Canada since 2011

February 13, 2015 CBC News

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed on Friday that it had found a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, in a beef cow in Alberta. The case is the first in Canada since 2011. A statement from the CFIA said no part of the cow had reached the human food or animal feed systems. "The CFIA is seeking to confirm the age of the animal, its history and how it became infected. The investigation will focus in on the feed supplied to this animal during the first year of its life," the agency said.

Exports of Canadian beef were badly hit in 2003 after the first case of BSE was found on a farm. Canada tightened its controls and many nations have since resumed the beef trade with Canada, despite the discovery of more cases since then.

Dennis Laycraft, the executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says the animal was discovered in northern Alberta and its herd of birth has been confirmed. He said such an isolated case should have little impact on the export of Alberta beef.  “We would have preferred never to have seen another case, but recognizing that these types of very isolated cases have occurred before, at this stage I'd call it disappointing and hopefully the last one we see,” he said. 

The CFIA also said the new case should not harm Canadian exports of beef. BSE — a progressive, fatal neurological disease — is believed to be spread when cattle eat protein rendered from the brains and spines of infected cattle or sheep. Canada banned that practice in 1997.

The CFIA tightened feed rules in 2007 and said at the time the moves should help eliminate the disease nationally within a decade, although the agency said it still expected to discover the occasional new case.

A fresh discovery of BSE may not close borders to Canadian beef, given Canada's tougher measures, but it could delay the country's efforts to upgrade its international risk status from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Laycraft speculated that the infection might have come from old feed. "In these isolated cases that they've found elsewhere in the world, normally they would attribute it to a little bit of isolated product, usually on the farm or ranch, that's just been sitting there for a number of years,” he said. “It could be at the back of the bin or an old bag. They assume it is something related to a very old bit of feed.”

Comment: Canada works under international protocols that allow for up to a dozen cases a year of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. The World Organisation for Animal Health continues to designate Canada a "controlled BSE risk" country.

Canada must reassure nervous trading partners that its beef is safe, expert says 

February 18, 2015 Calgary Herald

South Korea’s move to block imports of Canadian beef in the aftermath of this country’s latest case of mad cow disease is an indication that Canada must act quickly to reassure nervous trading partners, one expert says.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said the birth farm of the animal in question — Canada’s first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) since 2011 — has been identified as part of an investigation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

But Sylvain Charlebois, a University of Guelph professor who has studied the impacts of Canada’s 2003 mad cow crisis extensively, said there is still a risk that other countries will follow South Korea’s example and shut their borders to Canadian beef if more information isn’t forthcoming soon. “Absolutely, I’m concerned. I think we need to provide evidence as soon as possible to our partners so we can reassure them,” Charlebois said. “International markets are just waiting for that information to come forward.”

The new case of BSE, discovered on a northern Alberta farm, was diagnosed earlier this month — prompting an investigation into the animal’s history and background. John Masswohl, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s director of government and international relations, said on Tuesday that the CFIA has now traced the cow’s place of birth to a different Alberta farm. However, the food agency has not told the beef industry when the cow was born or how many other animals from the same herd may have consumed the same feed in their first year of life, Masswohl said.

Getting that information and communicating it to anxious trading partners is crucial, Charlebois said. Over the weekend, South Korea closed its borders to Canadian beef imports, and there is a risk that other Asian countries — where consumers have a high degree of fearfulness when it comes to food safety — could follow suit.

“Asian consumers’ perception of BSE is very different than in North America or Europe,” Charlebois said. “We know more about the disease here, and we are more comfortable with it.”

Canada exported $25.8 million worth of beef to South Korea in 2014 — an amount that was expected to grow this year thanks to the recent signing of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Just days before the discovery of the new mad cow case, beef industry representatives joined a federal trade mission in Seoul, where they visited local supermarkets to promote Canadian beef.

Masswohl told the Herald that while the timing may be “ironic,” South Korea is acting according to an agreed-upon protocol put in place in 2012. At that time, South Korea agreed to lift a nine-year ban on Canadian beef imports that had been in place since the discovery of Canada’s first BSE case — with the condition that if a new case was discovered, South Korea would suspend import clearances until the safety of the Canadian supply chain could be proven.

Masswohl said he’s convinced the ban will only be temporary, adding he hopes the CFIA will complete its investigation “within days” and prove to the Korean government that Canadian beef poses no health risks. “I’m very confident that Canada is going to be able to provide that information to Korea very quickly,” he said. “I’m hoping we’re talking about a very short hiccup — just a speed bump.”

But Charlebois said everything hinges on the results of the CFIA investigation and how quickly it can determine the infected animal’s age. Canada introduced an enhanced feed ban in 2007, meaning if the sick cow in northern Alberta is younger than that, it will cast doubt on whether the ban is working.

As well, Canada continues to be designated a “controlled BSE risk” country by the World Organization for Animal Health. To move up to “negligible BSE risk” — the same designation as the United States, Australia, and other major beef producers — there can be no BSE in domestic animals born in the last 11 years in Canada.

In an emailed statement, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz downplayed the impact of South Korea’s decision, saying he expects Canada’s other trading partners to continue to recognize our “controlled risk” status. “South Korea represented roughly 1.25 per cent of Canada’s beef exports last year, and using Canada’s strong controls system the government is working to fix this temporary trade disruption as soon as possible,” Ritz said.

In 2003, when Canada discovered its first case of BSE, about 40 markets immediately closed their borders to Canadian cattle and beef products. Most of those markets have since reopened.

February 20, 2015 Belarus restricts cattle import from Canada; more countries ban Canadian beef due to BSE fears; tally now at 5

Be sure to visit our Factory Farming & Authors pages