Canada Imposes New Safety Rule to Fight Mad Cow Disease

EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - Agriculture and Agri-food Minister Lyle Vanclief and Health Minister Anne McLellan today announced a new measure to enhance food safety controls for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. The discovery of a single cow infected with the fatal disease on an Alberta farm in May, has crippled the Canadian beef industry and halted all sales of Canadian beef to the United States.

The Canadian beef industry usually sells C$30 billion worth of beef to the United States every year. Due to the U.S. ban on import of Canadian beef, production is down more than 50 percent in Canada.

This new measure requires that specified risk materials, brain and spinal cord tissue, be removed at slaughter from carcasses of cattle older than 30 months. These tissues in BSE infected cattle contain the agent that may transmit the disease. Scientific research has shown that these tissues, in cattle younger than 30 months, do not contain the infective agent.

The Government of Canada intends to enact regulations by July 24 that will include a full definition of specified risk material.

"Today's announcement reflects the government of Canada's clear commitment to the health and safety of Canadians," said McLellan. "Canada's food supply is among the safest in the world and this measure will further protect human health."

Vanclief

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lyle Vanclief (Photo courtesy Canadian Food Inspection Agency)
"We are taking steps to implement this important measure as soon as possible," said Vanclief. "By removing specified risk material at slaughter we are making a very safe system even safer. It also further demonstrates to our trading partners that Canada remains a most reliable and responsible supplier of safe beef and beef products."

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman today stopped short of lifting the ban on importation of Canadian beef. "We appreciate that Canada is moving quickly to address these issues," she said. "We commend the Canadian government for its thorough investigation of the situation as well as its willingness to have an international team of experts review the progress."

“The United States continues to have a very strong commitment to ensuring that the U.S. beef supply is safe. We look forward to the continued coordination among the United States, Canada and our other trading partners to address the various and complex issues regarding the single BSE case,” Veneman said.

McLellan

Canadian Health Minister Anne McLellan (Photo courtesy World Health Organization)
The Canadian ministers said the new policy takes into account current science and the recommendations of the international team that examined the investigation into Canada's case of BSE.

While BSE is a cattle disease, the human disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD) has been associated with the consumption of products derived from BSE infected cattle.

Cattle tissues identified as specified risk materials are not generally consumed as food. However, during processing, these tissues could be unintentionally included in meat products destined for human consumption.

The international team's report, released June 26, praised the thoroughness and quality of the work done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. As a precautionary measure, the team recommended that Canada eliminate specified risk materials from products destined for consumption.

Specified risk materials are tissues that, in BSE-infected cattle, contain the agent that may transmit the disease. In diseased animals, the infective agent is concentrated in certain tissues.

The measures announced today will require the removal of such materials as the brain, and spinal cord from carcasses of cattle older than 30 months. Scientific research has shown that these tissues, in cattle younger than 30 months, do not contain the infective agent. A portion of the small intestine will be removed from carcasses of all cattle.

The government of Canada will work closely with provincial and territorial governments and industry to ensure nationwide implementation and enforcement.

cattle

Feed for Canadian beef cattle is free of the specified risk materials, brain and spinal cord tissue, that can transmit BSE. (Photo courtesy Alberta Agriculture Food and Rural Development)
Both ministers said consultations with the provinces, territories, industry, and trading partners will continue on other measures, such as surveillance and reviewing controls on animal feed, and that approaches to these additional measures will be decided upon in the near future.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association said in Calgary that it welcomes the new measures to enhance Canada's "already stringent food safety precautions" related to BSE.

"While these new measures will add some cost to the production of beef in Canada, we recognize that the diagnosis of BSE in a single cow in Canada puts us in a new situation where measures such as these may be necessary to satisfy our customers," the cattlemen said. "The North American beef industry is an integrated industry and we trust that our trading partners within North America are being consulted and will recognize the value to their industries of adopting similar measures."

"Canadian beef cattle producers are grateful for and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we have received from our fellow Canadians," the cattlemen said. "Our efforts remain focused on re-opening our export markets' borders to safe, wholesome and nutritious Canadian beef."

In a move aimed at supporting the Canadian beef industry, Costco Wholesale today announced the arrival of medium ground beef in all of its Quebec locations priced to sell at $1 a pound ($2.20 per kilogram) while quantities last.

Canada's beef industry has been suffering from the current U.S. ban on the importation of Canadian beef. "We feel that we must do something to support Canadian beef producers and move quality Canadian meat through the retail system," said Janet Shanks, vice-president of fresh foods from Costco's Canadian head office in Ottawa.

In a gesture of support for the Canadian beef industry, A&W Food Services of Canada Ltd. today announced that the company is moving to buy 100 per cent Canadian beef to supply its 619 restaurants across Canada.

"Over recent weeks we have been working hard to source sufficient lean beef in Canada to meet our total needs, and we are delighted that we can now move to converting to 100 percent Canadian beef," said Trish Sahlstrom, A&W's vice president of purchasing and distribution.