Prepared Foods January 17, 2005 enewsletter

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced that Canada's national surveillance program has detected bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in an Alberta beef cow just under seven years of age. As part of its surveillance program, the CFIA has control of the carcass. No part of the animal has entered the human food or animal feed systems, according to CFIA.

The agency assured that public health remains protected through the removal of specified risk material (SRM) from all animals slaughtered for human food. SRM are tissues that, in infected animals, contain the BSE agent. This measure is internationally recognized as the most effective public health measure against BSE.

The CFIA is investigating what the animal may have been fed early in its life and the source of the feed. The infected animal was born in March 1998, and the farm of origin has been confirmed. Based on preliminary information, feed produced prior to the introduction of the 1997 feed ban in Canada remains the most likely source of infection in this animal.

Canada's science-based BSE safeguards to protect public and animal health have been designed with the understanding that BSE is potentially present in a small and declining number of animals. This includes animals born before and shortly after the 1997 feed ban. The government of Canada continues to believe that the ruminant to ruminant feed ban introduced in 1997 has limited the spread of BSE and remains effective.

Initial testing on the animal was conducted by Alberta authorities. Results were inconclusive, and samples were then sent to the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg. The definitive diagnosis was made using the internationally recognized "gold standard" test for BSE.

Since the surveillance program was enhanced in January 2004, Canada has tested more than 24,000 high-risk cattle. This targeted approach has detected an additional two BSE-positive cattle.

This current investigation is independent of the BSE investigation on the case which was confirmed on January 2, 2005.

In related news, cattle feed banned in 1997 was allowed to be consumed after the anti-BSE measure went into effect, a federal food inspection official has disclosed.

While a manufacturing ban of higher risk feed containing animal protein was enforced, there was no effort to recall any of the existing product already distributed, said Dr. George Luterbach, a veterinarian for the CFIA.

"You must remember, in 1997, Canada had no (known) BSE animals," said Luterbach.

"It was accepted that in a short period of time the feed would be out of the system."

That would have left potentially tainted feed in warehouses, stores and on ranches, he said.

The admission came during the press conference into the third Canadian case of Mad Cow Disease, involving the cow born in 1998.

The cow's owner, Wilhelm Vohs, said he normally fed his livestock home-grown grain, but added he did supply his cattle a purchased feed supplement in the spring of 1998.

Though the ban went into effect due to concerns over the BSE connection to animal protein feed, Canadian officials did not consider the risk to be high at that time, said Luterbach.

"(The ban) was done as a precaution," he said.

"You have to frame it in terms of where we were in 1997 ... it was not done in the face of a large threat or findings."

He refused to say the ban's implementation should have been handled more strictly.

Canadian agriculture officials were confident they had purged any possible BSE-tainted animals in the 1980s, he added.

Regulations to ensure feed mill equipment was fully cleansed of the banned feed also might not have been airtight, said Luterbach.

Vohs, whose livelihood has been thrown into turmoil by the BSE discovery, refused to blame any possible lapse in enforcement.

"It's hard for me to judge -- I'm a cattle producer, not a feed mill manager," he said, noting feed has not been conclusively cited for the case of BSE.

An industry spokesman said the latest episode should not impact the planned March 7 re-opening of the U.S. border to Canadian livestock.

"We will be more than willing to stand up to any scrutiny," said Darcy Davis, chairman of Alberta Beef Producers.