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F.ood & H.ealth : & P.olitics Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

CFIA Report Conflicts with USDA Position on BSE
Aug 30, 2006, 18:02

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(Billings, Mont.) – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued last week the conclusive report on its epidemiological investigation of a 50-month old dairy cow diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) on July 13, 2006, a report that revealed information previously not documented. This animal was born almost five years after Canada implemented its 1997 feed ban on feeding ruminant meat-and-bone meal (MBM) materials back to ruminants.

According to the report the cow did not express symptoms of BSE and died from an unrelated disease. Yet, the cow was detected with a rapid BSE test perhaps eight months before the Canadian testing program would have targeted the animal for BSE testing. The report stated, "The normal disease course to expression of clinical signs in this animal would be expected to have included an additional three to six months of incubation followed by an additional one to two months of clinical expression prior to being recognized as symptomatic of BSE and targeted for testing."

"The revelation that a rapid BSE test can detect infected animals up to eight months before the animal would fit the criteria for targeted testing is not only new news, but groundbreaking news," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

"This 50 month old Canadian cow would have been only 15 months old when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reopened the Canadian border to imports of Canadian beef in August 2003," he emphasized. "Because scientists believe that BSE-positive cattle are most likely infected during their first year of life, this means that the beef from this cow – an animal which was incubating the BSE agent – was eligible for export to the United States from August 2003 through January 2005.

"USDA has consistently taken the position that BSE testing can only detect infectivity two months to three months before an animal begins to exhibit clinical symptoms of the disease," Bullard said. "In fact, USDA cited its inability to detect BSE more than two months to three months before an infected animal would exhibit symptoms as support for its position that BSE testing is not a food safety issue. USDA stated that 'currently available postmortem tests, although useful for disease surveillance (i.e., in determining the rate of disease in the cattle population), are not appropriate as food safety indicators. We know that the earliest point at which current testing methods can detect a positive case of BSE is 2 to 3 months before the animal begins to demonstrate clinical signs.'

"This development means BSE can indeed be detected through additional testing, long before symptoms begin to appear," Bullard continued. "This would suggest that Canada – if it would dramatically increase BSE testing of its cattle herd – could detect the disease in animals that are not yet exhibiting clinical symptoms, but are destined for the human food chain."

The CFIA report did not definitely identify the source of contamination, but it did conclude that feed contaminated through cross contamination with prohibited material likely was the source of the disease. The report stated that one of the rendering plants implicated in this particular investigation also has been implicated in previous Canadian BSE investigations. Production records at a second facility in question were incomplete and did not allow for the desired level of certainty. Additionally, the report stated, "Because of incomplete or absent documentation, the possibility of cross-contamination during transportation being a contributing factor could not be ruled out."

Although Canada announced on June 26 that it was tightening its feed ban requirements to ban potentially harmful cattle tissues from all animal feeds, a step that would minimize the possibility of cross contamination, the new regulations are not scheduled to take effect until July 12, 2007.

"Back in 2003, USDA's BSE experts and an international team of scientists recommended that both Canada and the U.S. enhance their respective feed systems to protect against the additional infectivity pathways of cross-contamination and inadvertent feeding of ruminant materials to cattle," Bullard commented. "BSE experts have long identified these two situations as likely routes of transmission of the disease.

"There is no way to know how widespread this problem is in Alberta, but we do know that Alberta is a hot spot for BSE infectivity, and most of the Canadian cattle exported to the U.S. arrive here from Alberta," Bullard noted. "Interestingly, the CFIA report acknowledges this case is consistent with the previously identified geographic cluster for the disease, which is Alberta.

"Because of Canada's continuing BSE problems and its decision to postpone for another year regulations to improve its feed ban, there is a very definite possibility that the U.S. has a good chance of importing live Canadian cattle that already are incubating BSE, but showing no symptoms of the disease," Bullard noted. “Another concern is that just last Thursday, USDA announced that cutbacks to our domestic BSE surveillance program would take effect Aug. 27.

"In July 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended strengthening our domestic feed ban, but no action has yet been taken," Bullard he said. "Most recently, FDA officials said they were still reviewing the 800-plus comments on the rule and had not yet reached any decisions on the matter.

"R-CALF USA also is disappointed that CFIA's report revealed that Canada has discontinued its practice of testing for BSE in herd cohort animals, or herdmates, of infected cattle," Bullard concluded. "This is inconsistent with the recommendations of the OIE, which specifically recommends the testing of cattle which have consumed potentially contaminated feedstuffs from countries not free from BSE. There simply is too little known about Canada's BSE problem for Canada not to have tested animals that are believed to have consumed the same contaminated feed as this diseased cow."

# # #

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization and is dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on both domestic and international trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALF USA has more than 60 affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit or, call 406-252-2516.

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