Canada's latest BSE case in youngest animal yet; U.S. cattle producers organization calls for USDA to rescind final rule
By R-CALF USA media release
Jul 13, 2006
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Billings, Mont. - Today the Canadian government confirmed its fourth positive case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) detected this year, Canada's ninth BSE case overall. Canada's first case was detected in 1993 in a cow imported from the United Kingdom (UK). Eight other cases followed in Canadian-origin cattle, including the December 2003 case in Washington state that was detected in a cow imported from Canada.  

This latest case occurred in a 50-month-old cow, the youngest Canadian animal yet - barely over 4 years old - that was born well after 1997 when Canada implemented its feed ban. Unfortunately, this case like most others found in Canada came from the Province of Alberta, the source of a large percentage of the cattle and beef products imported into the U.S. from Canada. 

"Canada has had a high level of BSE infectivity circulating within its domestic cattle herd as recently as 2002," said R-CALF USA President and Region V Director Chuck Kiker. "BSE has now been confirmed in eight other Canadian-born cattle from a sample of only about 115,000 Canadian cattle tested since 2003, which represents one positive case detected for every 15,000 cattle tested, versus one case per 400,000 U.S.-origin cattle tested." 

Canada's limited voluntary testing program proves that key assumptions used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support its Final Rule to relax U.S. import standards for Canadian beef and cattle were wrong. 

"USDA must now acknowledge that the principal assumptions used to support its Final Rule are no longer valid and that much more needs to be done to mitigate the heightened BSE risks presented by Canadian beef and cattle," Kiker continued.   

The invalid key assumptions that underpinned USDA's Final Rule include:   

1.  USDA's assumption that there was only a low level of BSE infectivity circulating in Canada before its 1997 feed ban: USDA believed the BSE incubation period in Canada was longer than the BSE incubation period in countries like the UK, where the average incubation period was estimated to be 4.2 years. USDA used this erroneous argument when in 2005 the agency tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to reduce the required duration of Canada's feed ban from 8 years to only 5 years. USDA assumed Canadian BSE cases would be detected only in older Canadian cattle born prior to Canada's 1997 feed ban. 

"The fact that Canada is detecting BSE in cattle from 4 to 6 years of age confirms that Canada's BSE incubation period is similar to that found in the UK and elsewhere in Europe," Kiker said. "By USDA's logic, this indicates that Canadian cattle were being exposed, long after its feed ban, to levels of infectivity in feed comparable to the high levels found in feed in the European Union (EU).  It also confirms the folly of USDA's efforts to reopen our border to Canadian cattle in January 2005, when already there was evidence Canada's feed ban hadn't prevented exposure to tainted feed later than the fall of 1997." 

2.  USDA assumed the prevalence of BSE in Canada is "very low," based principally on its finding that that the three cases of BSE detected in Canadian-origin cattle before the Final Rule was signed were all born prior to the implementation of Canada's feed ban. The agency also assumed 95 percent of infected Canadian cattle would exhibit clinical signs in less than 7 years, resulting in few, if any, remaining infected cattle in Canada.   

"These new facts that reveal almost three times the number of infected Canadian cattle, four of which were born since Canada's 1997 feed ban," Kiker explained. "This proves Canada's prevalence rate is now considerably higher than USDA assumed and cannot be considered low.  USDA calculated Canada's prevalence at the time of the Final Rule at only .04 cases per million adult cattle, but with four BSE-positive cases this year, Canada's known prevalence, based on its adult cattle herd size of approximately 6 million cattle, is now at 0.7 cases per million head of adult cattle, or almost twice what USDA assumed." 

3. USDA assumed Canada's 1997 feed ban was effectively enforced, as well as effective at preventing the further spread of BSE, as the agency stated in its Final Rule. 

"This assumption is now effectively disproved by Canada's multiple BSE-positive cattle born years after its feed ban," Kiker noted. "Canada recently recognized the ineffectiveness of its feed ban and announced changes to make the feed ban more protective." 

4. USDA assumed Canada's BSE problem is not comparable to the BSE problem experienced in European countries - countries USDA considered to have "widespread exposure" to BSE.   

"Canada's ratio of positive BSE cases under its enhanced testing program over the past 12 months is now 0.72 cases per 10,000 cattle tested, higher than the 12-month ratios reported by many EU countries for 2004, which is the latest data available," said Kiker. "A comparison of Canada's BSE statistics with data compiled for each EU member shows Canada's ratio of BSE-positive cattle for the past 12 months is now comparable to, or higher than, the 2004 ratios reported by 18 of the 25 EU members, including the Czech Republic, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and the Netherlands - all countries with known BSE problems." 

5. USDA implicitly assumed Canada's BSE risk profile is no different from that of the U.S. 

"That assumption was never logical because Canada had confirmed BSE in a cow imported from the UK in 1993, and apparently slaughtered and rendered numerous other cattle from the same UK farm," Kiker commented. "But clearly, this assumption by USDA is even more wrong now, with Canada's detection of BSE in four cattle born after its feed ban, versus the only two cases in the U.S., which were in cattle born long before our domestic feed ban.   

"In order to protect the U.S. cattle herd and U.S. beef consumers, USDA must immediately rescind its Final Rule, close the Canadian border to all beef and cattle, and work with Canada to scientifically determine the full scope of Canada's BSE problem through mandatory testing of at least every high-risk animal in Canada," Kiker emphasized. "Once Canada's true risk profile is scientifically known, Canada should implement the internationally recommended risk mitigation measures necessary to address its specific risk profile. Only then should the U.S. consider resuming trade, strictly in only boneless beef from Canadian cattle under 30 months of age, and only if Canadian beef is clearly distinguished with a country-of-origin label. 

"Because of BSE's long incubation period, the U.S. needs to wait for perhaps several years before resuming trade in live Canadian cattle, as it would take this long to monitor the effectiveness of Canada's newly implemented risk mitigation measures," Kiker continued. "We have very recent reminders that commingling Canadian cattle and beef with domestic cattle and beef is hurting the reputation and marketability of U.S. beef."  

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.