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Half of Canadian BSE Cattle Born After 1997 Feed Ban; Stronger Measures Needed
R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America

Billings, Mont. – Canada announced on Sunday yet another case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), this time in British Columbia, in a dairy cow born in mid-2000. This is a significant development because it confirms that BSE in Canada is not confined only to Alberta, and BSE in Canadian cattle obviously is not restricted to animals born before Canada’s 1997 feed ban was implemented to prevent the spread of this disease.

This latest BSE-positive cow – as well as the case Canada announced on Jan. 23 – was born three years after Canada implemented its feed ban, which suggests BSE has been circulating within the Canadian feed system during the past six years. The BSE-positive cow Canada confirmed on Jan. 11, 2005, was born seven months after Canada implemented its feed ban.

This new case actually is Canada’s sixth confirmed case of BSE in native-born cattle, not its fifth, as reported by USDA, which continues to overlook the December 2003 case found in Washington state in a cow imported from Alberta. (Canada also detected BSE in a cow imported from Great Britain in 1993.) More worrisome is that this latest incident is Canada’s fourth detected case in a little more than a year, and that Canada continues to test significantly fewer cattle compared to other BSE-affected countries.

“This means half of all Canadian BSE cases confirmed so far were in animals born after Canada implemented its 1997 feed ban, a precaution USDA incorrectly assumed would halt the spread of the disease within Canada’s feed system and its cattle herd,” said R-CALF USA President and Region V Director Chuck Kiker.

Underpinning USDA’s Final Rule that allows Canadian beef and cattle into the U.S. is the agency’s key assumption – a false assumption – that Canada’s feed ban is effective against BSE.

USDA has stated the agency anticipated there might be a few more cattle that were exposed to BSE-contaminated feed before Canada initiated its feed ban. However, in its risk analysis supporting the Final Rule, the agency warned that: “Another indication of an effective feed ban can be derived from epidemiologic investigations of diagnosed cases. Cases of BSE found in animals born after the feed ban was implemented would suggest either that the feed ban was ineffective or that there were noncompliance issues.”

“That’s precisely the situation now,” Kiker said.

Similarly, USDA stated in the Federal Register: “because the two BSE-infected animals (at the time) were born before the feed ban, there is no evidence to suggest that the feed ban is ineffective.”

“We now have the smoking gun: three confirmed BSE cases that show Canada’s feed ban has not prevented the spread of BSE,” noted Kiker. “USDA’s previous optimistic assumptions are no longer valid.

“By USDA’s own account, Canada is now detecting the third generation of BSE infectivity within its cattle herd – an increasingly obvious risk to the U.S. cattle herd,” Kiker explained. “If USDA does not take more decisive action, there is a possible irreversible risk of introducing a spreading pattern of BSE in our own country because the U.S. has not yet implemented the U.S. feed ban improvements recommended back in 2004 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address the increased risk of BSE exposure from foreign sources.”

Another important fact to consider is that this latest case was discovered in British Columbia, not Alberta, as were the previous cases, indicating Canada’s BSE problem is not confined to one small geographic area.

“Either BSE was already more widespread in Canada than previously thought, and Canada’s testing program was simply too low to detect it, or Canada’s BSE problem is growing,” Kiker continued. “In either case, the facts now available show more strongly than ever that it has become vital that USDA stop opening the way for Canada’s BSE problem to spread into the United States.

“Because the facts demonstrate Canada indeed has a significant BSE problem, R-CALF USA is reinstating its call for the closure of the Canadian border until the full scope of the problem can be scientifically quantified, and until Canada has successfully controlled its disease outbreak, which must be confirmed over many months of increased surveillance with no new cases of BSE,” Kiker asserted.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said that in 2005 demand for U.S. beef fell approximately 3.6 percent, with most of the decline occurring after the Canadian border was reopened to live Canadian cattle and additional beef products.

“The U.S. cannot continue to assume Canada’s BSE problem by co-mingling Canadian beef with U.S. beef in the domestic market with absolutely no differentiation between the two,” he said. “It’s not fair to consumers, and it’s not fair to independent U.S. cattle producers. It’s also irrational for the U.S. to have lower import standards for Canadian beef and cattle than what our export customers demand for our products.”

This latest Canadian case shows that the BSE prevalence rate per million head of Canadian cattle is higher than USDA claims. Over one year ago, nationally recognized risk analysis expert Louis Anthony Cox, Jr., Ph.D., estimated that Canada’s BSE prevalence rate – based on the fewer numbers of BSE cases detected at that time – was likely much higher than two per million head of cattle, and that Canada’s prevalence rate likely was as high as that found in some European countries. Cox reported that even using “2 per million for purposes of a baseline calculation, it is statistically almost certain (greater than 99 percent probability) that, at this rate, at least three BSE-positive cattle will be imported into the United States among the first few million cattle imported – presumably within the next few years.”

“We can no longer reasonably hope that Canadian BSE is a dwindling problem of the past,” Bullard insisted. “Currently, Canada is testing fewer cattle than any other countries affected by BSE, including the United States, and is testing at a rate far below that recommended by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).”

Canada has tested only 103,152 cattle since 2003 and is detecting BSE at a rate of more than one positive case for every 20,000 head of cattle tested.

In contrast, the U.S. has tested 712,087 cattle since 2003 – about 7 times as many cattle as Canada – but has detected only two native cases (one case for every 356,044 head tested), both in cattle much older than those BSE cases being discovered in Canada, and in cattle born long before the U.S. feed ban was implemented. In other words, the U.S. is testing 7 times as many cattle and finding less than 5 percent as high a rate of BSE. These data provide a high level of confidence that the 1997 U.S. feed ban has prevented the spread of BSE within the U.S. feed system.

R-CALF USA calls on USDA to place a moratorium on the importation of Canadian cattle and beef at least until Canada adopts the minimal risk mitigation measures practiced in other BSE-affected countries that have identified BSE cases in cattle born after the implementation of a feed ban. Such measures include:

  1. Significantly increase testing of Canadian cattle to mirror the testing programs of other similarly affected countries.

  2. Close the loopholes in Canada’s feed ban, acknowledged by the Canadian government since 2003.

  3. Remove all specified risk materials (SRMs) from all cattle over 12 months of age, currently recommended by OIE for countries with an undetermined risk for BSE.

In addition, USDA should immediately require all beef and beef products imported from Canada to be clearly marked with a label indicating Canadian origin. After the above measures have effectively been implemented – and this has been confirmed by real-world data – USDA should continue labeling requirements that denote the origin of all beef products.

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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on domestic and international trade and marketing issues. R-CALF USA, a national, non-profit organization, is dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA’s membership consists primarily of cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and feedlot owners. Its members – over 18,000 strong – are located in 47 states, and the organization has over 60 local and state association affiliates, from both cattle and farm organizations. Various main street businesses are associate members of R-CALF USA. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516


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