Canada's Fifth Mad Cow Case Found in British Columbia

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - A cow from British Columbia is suspected of having mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). If confirmed, this would be the fifth case of the fatal brain disease found in Canada. Since Canadian beef and cattle are imported into the United States, there are concerns that the finding could depress demand for beef across North America.

No part of the animal has entered the human food or animal feed systems, said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and confirmatory testing is underway. Results are expected Sunday and meanwhile, the entire carcass has been "placed under control."

The six year old Holstein dairy cow cow was identified on a farm in the Fraser Valley through the national BSE surveillance program. Since detecting Canada's first case in 2003, Canada's surveillance program, which targets animals most at risk of having BSE, has tested approximately 100,000 animals.

After initial screening tests conducted in British Columbia produced inconclusive results, samples from the animal were sent to the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg for further analysis, the agency said. The first part of this process has been completed and produced a preliminary positive result.

"This case, if positive, has no bearing on the safety of Canadian beef," said the CFIA. "Canada has a suite of internationally recognized safeguards that work together to provide high levels of human and animal health protection."

cow

There is no test to diagnose BSE in live animals. Diagnosis can only be confirmed by microscopic examination of the animal’s brain after its death. (Photo courtesy APHIS)
Nervous system tissues where BSE is known to concentrate in infected animals are removed from all cattle slaughtered in Canada for domestic and international human consumption.

In addition, Canada's safeguards prevent the entry of potentially harmful imports, test cattle most at risk of having BSE and limit the potential spread of the disease through feed, the agency said.

Mad cow disease spreads from one animal to another by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by misfolded proteins, known as prions.

Before a ban of such feed imposed in 1997 in the U.S. and Canada to prevent the disease, feed containing protein that could include tissue from an infected animal was given to beef and dairy animals.

The human form of the disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), can be transmitted if a human being eats BSE infected meat, or through blood transfusions. Worldwide 150 people have died of this disease, most in the United Kingdom where BSE broke out in the mid-1980s.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) sought to calm any public fears to avoid another ban on Canadian beef like the one that closed U.S. and other borders from 2003 when the first Canadian case of BSE was found, to 2005, when the U.S. lifted the beef ban.

"While the animal was born after the introduction of the feed ban, almost every country with BSE has found and continues to find a few cases born after the introduction of feed controls," the CCA said today.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said if the samples from the Fraser Valley cow test positive it would begin a comprehensive epidemiological investigation to identify other animals of potential interest and to determine how and when the animal became infected.

This investigation would be conducted "on a priority basis," and information would be shared with the public as it became available, the agency said.

U.S. stockgrowers are concerned that mad cow disease can enter their herds from their neighbor to the north.

cow

Cattle feed containing tissue from ruminanant animals was banned in the U.S. and Canada in 1997 to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. (Photo courtesy MSU)
R-CALF USA had filed a lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Final Rule to allow imports of Canadian cattle and beef into the United States that took effect in January 2005.

On April 5, a U.S. federal judge in Billings, Montana denied R-CALF USA's request for an injunction.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull has issued a preliminary injunction blocking the imports in March 2005, but was reversed by a higher court in July 2005. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said saying the USDA deserved deference and respect as a federal regulatory agency.

In his April 5 order, Judge Cebull indicated his “hands are tied. The Ninth Circuit has instructed this Court to "abide by this deferential standard," and "respect the agency’s judgment and expertise," he wrote.

“R-CALF is deeply disappointed with this outcome, and it’s clear the 9th Circuit forced this case to an abrupt halt by instructing Judge Cebull to cease further review of the scientific issues surrounding BSE,” said R-CALF USA President and Region V Director Chuck Kiker. “This isn’t a loss for R-CALF. This is a loss for every single cattle producer in the United States."

“R-CALF remains convinced that USDA’s decision to allow in imports of cattle and beef from Canada – a country that clearly has an ongoing BSE problem – without strengthening measures to prevent the introduction and spread of BSE – is bad policy and inconsistent with the agency’s mandate to protect U.S. agriculture from foreign diseases,” Kiker emphasized.

“The events since the preliminary injunction have strengthened that conclusion," he said, "yet USDA has steadfastly refused to be swayed by the facts surrounding this disease.”

The animal welfare advocacy group Farm Sanctuary is urging the USDA to prohibit the import of Canadian cattle and to enact a permanent ban on slaughtering "downed" animals, those too sick or weak to stand, for food. The majority of cows confirmed to be afflicted with mad cow disease in North America have been downed animals. Early reports on this latest case of BSE indicate that the sick cow had trouble walking.

Although past discoveries of BSE have triggered a ban on Canadian imports and a ban on slaughtering downed cattle for food, the USDA has lifted the ban on Canadian imports under 30 months of age. The age of the animals is important because BSE takes years to develop, so younger animals are not as likely to show the illness.

Since the last announcement of a BSE case in Canada in January 2006, the USDA has continued its efforts to open imports of cows from Canada over 30 months of age.

In addition, the Farm Sanctuary points out, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has raised the possibility of removing the current, interim ban on slaughtering downed cattle for human food.

"The USDA should be strengthening its policies to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, not weakening them," said Gene Bauston, president of Farm Sanctuary. "The agency is acting irresponsibly, and placing both humans and animals at risk."