Canada Finds Fifth Mad Cow, Japan Bans U.S. Beef Again

WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2006 (ENS) - The United States has decided not to change the status of beef imports from Canada in response to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announcement Monday that confirmed mad cow disease in a six year old cow born and raised in Alberta. No part of the animal entered the human food or animal feed systems. This is Canada's fifth case of mad cow disease, all from Alberta.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of cattle that can be transmitted to humans who eat contaminated meat as the fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

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Canadian Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell (left) and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. Mitchell will not longer be in government after the Liberal Party to which he belongs lost power in the Canadian election Monday. (Photo courtesy )
U.S. Mike Johanns, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said Monday, "I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Canadian Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell today, who apprised me of the new BSE detection in Canada. I assured him that based on the information he supplied, I anticipate no change in the status of beef or live cattle imports to the U.S. from Canada under our established agreement. As I've said many times, our beef trade decisions follow internationally accepted guidelines that are based in science."

"We will continue to evaluate this situation as the investigation continues," Johanns said. "I have directed our USDA team to work with Canada and its investigative team. Minister Mitchell has pledged his full cooperation."

"I am confident in the safety of beef and in the safeguards we and our approved beef trading partners have in place to protect our food supply," said Johanns.

Canadian officials said the mad cow finding "is not unexpected and was identified through Canada's national surveillance program, which targets cattle at highest risk of being infected with BSE." The program has tested some 87,000 animals since Canada's first BSE case in May 2003.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is launching an investigation but said food safety "remains protected" through the removal of specified risk material (SRM) from all cattle slaughtered for human food in Canada. SRM are tissues that, in infected cattle, contain the BSE agent. This measure is internationally recognized as the most effective means to protect public health from BSE, the Canadian agency said.

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The name mad cow disease comes from the symptoms seen in cattle that have the disease - aggression, lack of coordination with inability to stand or walk, and abnormal posture. The disease was first identified by a veterinarian in England in 1986. (Photo courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as mad cow disease and its human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), are spread by prions - abnormally shaped proteins that originate as regular components of neurological tissues in animals - they are not cellular organisms or viruses, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

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. Ruminant animals such as cows are normally vegetarian. Regulations in the United States, Canada and Japan now all prohibit the mixture of animal proteins into cattle feed, a ban that extends back to 1997 in the United States.

The human form of the disease can be transmitted if a human being eats BSE infected meat, or through blood transfusions. Consuming meat from infected cattle has also been linked to the deaths of about 150 people worldwide.

A 19 month U.S. ban on the import of Canadian beef that devastated the Canadian beef industry was lifted in January 2005 over the objections of some U.S. beef producers, such as R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America.

“R-CALF has argued all along that there is a BSE problem in Canada, and that Canada has a far higher incidence of BSE than the United States does,” said R-CALF USA President Chuck Kiker.

"Science points to the need to increase testing for BSE and improve other surveillance and mitigation measures so the parameters of the problem can be defined and the situation contained. Only then should the U.S. consider allowing imports of Canadian cattle and beef," Kiker said.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said Canada has not tested enough animals to comply with international rules. “The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recommends that nations that have not yet identified any cases of BSE should test at least 187,000 cattle consecutively just to determine if they have the disease, regardless of the size of that country’s cattle herd.

“The U.S. meets this recommendation, while Canada does not,” said Bullard.

"Canada has only tested approximately 90,000 head since the discovery of their first case of BSE in 2003, and even after discovering four confirmed cases of BSE, Canada tested only 57,000 cattle in all of 2005, an amount insufficient to meet the minimal testing requirements recommended by the OIE," Bullard said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency defends its practices in view of the newly discovered BSE case. "This detection is consistent with a low level of disease and does not indicate an increased risk of BSE in Canada," the agency said. "Based on the guidelines and certification recommendations of the World Organization for Animal Health, this finding should not affect Canada's ability to export live animals, beef and beef products."

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is meeting with Japanese officials to discuss the status of U.S. beef exports to Japan.

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick pays a courtesy call on Japans Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe Monday at the prime ministers official residence in Tokyo. (Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy Tokyo)
Japan is struggling to contain the spread of mad cow disease in its own herds, but the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Monday confirmed its twenty-second BSE case in a 5-year and 4-month-old cow that died last week on a Hokkaido farm.

Japanese officials say the cow was born in September 2000, before Japan’s 2001 feed control rules took effect. An investigation is now under way.

News of the case comes just days after Japan suspended U.S. beef imports when a shipment of U.S. veal containing bones not approved under a U.S.-Japan agreement arrived at Tokyo's Narita Airport.

At a press briefing Monday, Zoellick said the recent shipment of U.S. beef to Japan containing pieces of vertebrae was an "unacceptable mistake."

Since the discovery of the problem shipment, Japan has reinstated a ban on U.S. beef originally imposed in December 2003 after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in a U.S. herd in a cow imported from Canada. Another diseased cow was discovered in the United States in June 2005.

Japan lifted its ban on U.S. beef in December 2005 with the stipulation that no vertical column material would be contained in U.S. export shipments and that shipments would consist solely of beef and beef products from cows under 30 months of age.

Although the United States does not consider the bone contamination incident a food safety issue, "we have a commitment under the agreement with Japan about the beef that we brought in," Zoellick said.

According to the October 2004 agreement governing U.S. beef exports to Japan, such products may not contain any "specified risk materials ... including bovine heads (except for tongues and cheek meat, but including tonsils), spinal cords, distal ileum (two meters from connection to caecum), vertebral column (excluding the transverse processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, the wings of the sacrum and the vertebrae of the tail) of all ages."

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Beef shabu-ahabu is a delicacy in Japan. Japanese officials test each and every carcass for BSE before it enters the food chain. (Photo credit unknown)
"I know it's a great point of sensitivity in Japan," Zoellick said, adding the U.S. Department of Agriculture has removed the firm responsible for the problem shipment from the list of approved exporters for Japan and has taken other steps to strengthen the inspection system. The de-listed beef processor is located in New York.

USDA Secretary Johanns said the agency is increasing the number of on-site inspectors at U.S. processing plants to ensure compliance with export procedures. The agency will begin to require a second food safety inspector's signature on export certificates before a shipment leaves a processing facility, and will implement unannounced inspections.

The secretary said the USDA will require inspectors to undergo additional training to ensure they are aware of all export requirements, he said.

Additionally, USDA is sending inspectors to Japan to work with that country's officials to re-examine beef shipments from the United States waiting approval for acceptance, Johanns said.

R-CALF President Kiker faults the United States for mishandling the mad cow export situation. “Ironically, Canada – with five confirmed cases of BSE – is still allowed to export to Japan, while the U.S. beef industry sits on the sidelines,” he said. “Our domestic and foreign consumers deserve better, and the U.S. cattle and beef industries deserve better. The U.S. needs to go back and implement the high standards that caused U.S. beef to be considered the safest beef in the world."

Prior to the ban, Japan had been the largest importer of U.S. beef, with imports valued between $1.4 billion and $1.7 billion.

Find out more about BSE online at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/bse/