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F.ood & H.ealth : B.iological A.gents Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Alberta hotspot for mad cow disease, says R-CALF
By Kathy Jones
Aug 24, 2006, 13:26

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24 Aug, ( - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the detection of the country's eighth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease in an Alberta beef cow. This is Canada's fifth mad cow case this year and overall eighth since 2003.

The Alberta cow is between eight to ten years old and was probably exposed to the prion disease just before or shortly after Canada banned the feeding of cattle protein to cattle and other ruminants in 1997, the CFIA said. It stressed that no part of the cow had entered either human or animal food chains.

The confirmation of the new mad cow case "demonstrates the national surveillance program's effectiveness in detecting periodic BSE cases as it works to eliminate the disease entirely within the next decade," the food inspection agency said.

The CFIA said in a statement that available information gleaned from the dead cow's owner put the age of the animal between eight to ten years. This means that it could have contracted the mad cow disease before or just after the feed ban was imposed.

"Based on this range, exposure to the BSE agent likely occurred either before the feed ban's introduction or during its early implementation," it said.

The agency added that it was investigating the cow's birth farm, to determine its exact age and also how it came to be exposed to mad cow-causing prions. "As has been done previously, the CFIA will conduct a complete epidemiological review of this case, the results of which will be made public," the agency added.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association stressed that beef products in the country were safe and assured other countries that there was no fear of contaminated beef exports. "We probably have the most aggressive, safest beef supply of any country in the world," said Brad Wildeman, vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

"We just need to keep hammering that home to our international trading partners that when it comes to a safe, quality product, that we've got that to offer them."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that it would not restrict Canadian beef imports following the detection of the new mad cow case. USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said that Canada has started an epidemiological investigation to identify the animal's herd of origin.

"With the information currently available we do not anticipate a change in the status of beef imports from Canada. While our risk assessment anticipated multiple cases of BSE, we are confident that the interlocking safeguards in place in both Canada and the U.S. are providing effective consumer protection," he added.

However U.S. rancher lobby group R-CALF said the new case confirmed their worst fears. "R-CALF has been saying all along that it appears the prevalence of BSE in Canada is a lot higher than anybody anticipated," said R-CALF USA President and Region V Director Chuck Kiker. "This raises a tremendous amount of concern, especially in light of the fact that it does not appear Canada's meat and bone meal ban, or feed ban, was effective."

R-CALF USA feels that Alberta is the hot spot for mad cow disease. In May the organization had sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Congress urging them to take steps to see that Canada's BSE does not enter US.

In the letter R-CALF had asked USDA and Congress to
* Rescind its Minimal Risk Region Rule that presently allows the importation of cattle and beef from cattle under 30 months of age from Canada until a comprehensive analysis is completed on Canada's latest detection of a 4 year, 2 month old cow with BSE;

* End its practice of granting access to the U.S. market before the United States fully regains all of its lost export markets; and,

* Ensure that beef produced exclusively from U.S. cattle be clearly labeled with a Country-of-Origin Label (COOL) for consumers, both domestic and abroad.

However the American Meat Institute said that the detection of the new mad cow case proved that Canada's surveillance program was working very well. "We hope and expect that this case will not adversely affect USDA's rulemaking efforts to restore all beef trade with Canada. We reiterate our confidence that BSE is being eliminated in North America," said AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle.

Canadian cattle industry suffered huge losses when the first case of mad cow disease was detected in Alberta in May 2003. The consequent ban on beef and dairy exports to the United States caused an estimated $7 billion in losses to the Canadian industry.

The exports resumed in the fall of 2003, but the damage had already been done. However initial reactions to this fresh development indicate that the trade should remain unaffected this time around.

In July Canada said it would tighten the 1997 rules that prohibit feeding ground-up cattle parts back to cattle. Animal scientists believe that BSE is caused when cattle eat feed with bone meal containing ruminant offal contaminated with BSE.

These rules will start in July 2007 and prohibit the use of cattle tissue suspected of causing BSE from all animal feed, pet food and fertilizer.

The rules were changed after a six-year-old dairy cow was found to be infected on a farm in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. In the US two cows in Texas and Alabama tested positive for mad cow disease over the past year. Scientists speculate that the cows may have been infected with a rare strain of the disease, although no confirmation has been forthcoming.

BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is a progressive neurological disorder of cattle that is caused by an agent called as prion. It is not properly understood how this prion transmits itself among cattle. The disease is characterized disorientation in the affected animals, clumsiness and aggressive behavior towards humans and other animals. BSE is usually a fatal disease

In the United States, BSE has been identified in one case in December 2003, while another case had delivered conflicting results before it was confirmed as BSE by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, England.

In humans BSE takes the form of a variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease). This disease is characterized by psychiatric/behavioral symptoms; painful dyesthesiasis and delayed neurological signs. Infection usually occurs after consuming contaminated beef of diary products.

The fact that the new mad cow case has no bearing on the food chain is reassuring. However as many organizations have repeatedly said, the frequency of detection of mad cow cases in Canada is worrisome.

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