New Canadian BSE case reignites US import battle
the US for tighter import regulations on Canadian beef.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on Tuesday confirmed the diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a 13-year-old beef cow from Alberta. The animal was identified by a national surveillance program, which targets cattle most at risk. According to CFIA, the surveillance program results in "an extremely low" incidence of BSE in Canada. "Canada has a suite of robust BSE control measures exceeding the recommended international standards. This year, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) categorized Canada as a Controlled Risk country for BSE. This status acknowledges the effectiveness of Canada's surveillance, risk mitigation and eradication measures. This case will not affect Canada's risk status," it said in a statement. However, US producers' association R-Calf claims Canada's controls are "inadequate" to protect the US from the avoidable risk of BSE. "Had this 13-year-old cow not been detected under Canada's limited, voluntary testing program, the meat from that cow would have been eligible for export to the United States," said R-Calf USA president Max Thornsberry. The group also accused the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) of taking inadequate measures to protect the US industry. "It is unconscionable that USDA would not at least allow US cattle producers to differentiate their high-quality US beef from Canadian beef with a country-of-origin label so we can maintain consumer confidence in our product and gain full resumption of US exports." It called on the regulatory agency to take immediate action to protect the nation's industry. Some of the steps it recommended include mandatory country of origin labeling, requiring the Canadian government to increase BSE testing, and reversing the agency's OTM rule, which allows for the importation of older cattle and beef from Canada. "OTM cattle in a BSE-affected country bear an inherently higher risk for the disease, and USDA is acting irresponsibly by allowing both higher-risk beef and higher-risk cattle into the US food supply," it said. However, Canadian authorities claim they have taken all necessary measures to achieve the eventual elimination of BSE from the national cattle herd. An enhanced feed ban was implemented on July 12, 2007, and is designed to prevent more than 99 percent of potential BSE infectivity from entering the Canadian feed system. The feed ban prohibits cattle-derived materials with potential to harbor BSE infectivity, such as the brain and spinal cord, from being used in all animal feeds, pet foods and fertilizers. CFIA said the animal most recently found to be infected with BSE was born before the implementation of the feed ban. The agency said the animal's carcass is under its control, and no part of it entered the human food or animal feed systems. An epidemiological investigation directed by international guidelines is underway to identify the animal's herdmates at the time of birth and the pathways by which it might have become infected. All findings will be publicly released once the investigation concludes, said CFIA. The agency said it still expects to detect "a small number of cases" over the next ten years.