USDA Still Considers Canada a Minimal Risk Region

Canada's latest find of mad cow disease in an 8-year-old cow will have little effect on USDA's recently announced rule unless Congress intervenes. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Jan 3, 2005

Canadian officials confirmed late Sunday night another case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The confirmation came days after USDA announced a long-anticipated rule to reopen the border to live cattle.

The rule in essence characterizes Canada as a minimal-risk region for BSE. Canada, similar to the U.S., has taken precautionary measures to protect the human and animal food chain from spreading the disease. The first and most important was the ruminant to ruminant feed ban instituted in 1997. In addition both countries remove specified risk materials (SRM).

A statement from the USDA explains that the extensive risk assessment conducted as part of USDA's rulemaking process took into careful consideration the possibility that Canada could experience additional cases of BSE. Several consumer and farmer groups are calling for USDA to reevaluate the rule with Canada's new finding including R-CALF and the National Farmers Union.

"According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines, a country may be considered a BSE minimal-risk country if it has less than 2 cases per million cattle over 24 months of age during each of the previous 4 consecutive years," the USDA statement says. "Considering Canada has roughly 5.5 million cattle over 24 months of age, under OIE guidelines, they could detect up to 11 cases of BSE in this population and still be considered a minimal-risk country, as long as their risk mitigation measures and other preventative measures were effective."

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is currently undergoing an investigation of the 8-year-old Alberta dairy cow found to have BSE. The traceback and trace forward measures have already identified the farm of origin, which has nearly 200 cattle. The animal left the birth farm and resided on one other farm prior to being discovered on a third farm when showing clinical signs of the disease.

To date, no animals have been slaughtered. Canadian officials expect fewer animals to be slaughtered in this investigation compared to the May 2003 case due to improved identification methods and records kept at the farm of origin. The agency is attempting to identify other potential birth cohorts from the farm of origin and two offspring of the cow.