Single case of BSE strikes Canada

by Emily Buckley
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OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA — North America’s first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or "mad cow" disease in a decade was confirmed in an eight-year-old cow in Alberta in May.

U.S. cattle futures markets slumped as the news swept through trading pits and shares in some major fast-food chains slumped. The USDA responded rapidly, placing Canada under its BSE restriction guidelines that closed U.S. borders to all ruminants and ruminant products from Canada pending further investigation.

The case first drew attention on Jan. 31, 2003 as part of Canada’s ongoing BSE surveillance program. The animal was said to have been underweight and to have had pneumonia and was sent to a rendering plant after slaughter. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) tests were inconclusive and specimens were sent for testing in the U.K., where BSE was confirmed.

As part of the trace-forward investigation into the processing of the remains of the BSE-infected cow, CFIA has determined that rendered material from the animal may have been used in the production of some brands of dry dog food manufactured by Champion Pet Foods Ltd., Morinville, Alberta. Current information indicates that these products are distributed in Western Canada but may have been distributed nationally.

Health Canada has indicated that it is not aware of any available evidence to suggest that physical contact with dry pet food containing meat and bone meal (MBM) from the infected cow would pose a risk to humans. There is no scientific evidence to date that dogs can contract BSE or any similar disease. In addition, there is no evidence that dogs can transmit the disease to humans.

There are two possible points of origin relating to the cow, and nine herds have been identified through these two lines of inquiry. One herd in Saskatchewan, where the infected cow could possibly have spent four years of its life, has now been depopulated, and is being sampled for testing. The second part of the investigation is a trace-forward of the calves from the case herd. Three herds have been identified from this trace forward. All three of these herds were removed from their farms and have now been partially depopulated and are being sampled for testing.

Three herds have been quarantined in British Columbia after CFIA investigation identified feeding practices that may not have respected the ban on feeding material from ruminants to other ruminants.

"We are continuing to investigate all of the herds identified through trace-backs and trace-outs, and more herds may be identified as we proceed," CFIA said. "To date we have quarantined 17 herds totaling about 2,000 animals. We are depopulating, sampling and testing 369 cattle up to this time."