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Canada applies for negligible risk status as BSE resurfaces

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Canada applies for negligible risk status as BSE resurfaces 

           On February 15, Canada confirmed their first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease, since 2015. 

BSE is a progressive neurological disease resulting in an infection caused by a prion, an unusual transmissible agent. Infected cattle can appear normal for two to eight years.  

Side effects such as trembling, stumbling, swaying and behavior changes may start to prevail as BSE slowly develops. On rare occasions, cattle with BSE can become suddenly ill.  

The Scientific Commission of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has said Canada’s application to change their status from a controlled-risk country for BSE to a negligible risk meets the necessary requirements, as Canada has been considered a controlled BSE-risk country by the OIE since 2007. 

Negligble risk application 

“Today, beef producers can be pleased Canada has taken an important step to being recognized as negligible risk for BSE,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Although we need to await the final vote, I’m optimistic this will soon allow them to expand their markets for cattle and beef exports to the U.S. and other foreign markets.” 

She adds, “Our government will continue to stand up for our hard-working beef producers who provide top-quality products.” 

This change in risk status will help Canada become secure enough to negotiate access to specific markets requiring products originating from negligible BSE-risk status countries. The Scientific Commission’s recommendation is an important milestone for Canada. 

Canada’s history with BSE 

The first case of BSE was discovered in 1993, in a beef cow imported during the 1980s from the United Kingdom.  

The second case, reported in 2003, was a cow born and raised in Canada.  

Since 2003, only 10 additional cases have been reported. It is important to note, all cases have been thoroughly inspected by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). 

Key measures to prevention 

Canada has made cautious decisions towards the prevention of BSE. 

In 1990, Canada made BSE a reportable disease. Producers who suspect they have a case of BSE are required to report to a federal veterinarian. 

Feeding protein products of ruminant animals to other ruminants was banned in 1997. 

Canada has also applied importation controls to prevent high-risk animals or potentially infected animal products from being imported from other countries.  

Since 2003, Canada has required the removal of specific cattle tissues, known as specified risk material (SRM) from animals butchered for human consumption. SRM are tissues from BSE-infected cattle capable of transmitting BSE to susceptible species. 

BSE surveillance has been conducted since 1992. This surveillance monitors cattle populations for the presence of BSE. It also assesses the effectiveness of the BSE safeguards.  

Canada implemented an enhanced feed ban in 2007 prohibiting the use of SRM designated tissues in the manufacture of animal feed, pet food and fertilizer. 

The last case of BSE was reported in 2015. The CFIA concluded the infection was feed related. This case was detected by CFIA through the BSE surveillance program. 

Canada’s latest BSE case 

Canada’s most recent case of BSE, a beef cow in Alberta, was reported Feb. 15. The Candaian government has since intervened and the animal has been culled and properly disposed of.  

CFIA confirmed no part of the animal had reached human consumption or animal feed systems. Canada is confident the discovery of the case would not affect the Canadian Beef Export sector. 

“The CFIA is seeking to confirm the age of the animal, its history and how it became infected,” the agency said. “The investigation will focus on the feed supplied to this animal during the first year of its life.” 

Due to Canadian exports being badly hit after the discovery of BSE resurfacing in 2003, Canada created regulations. This resulted in many nations resuming beef trade with Canada.  

“It’s very unlikely there will be more cases found,” stated Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. 

Previous outbreaks have rarely been more than one infected animal on one ranch, so it is unlikely more cases will be found.  

                  Madi Slaymaker is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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