Canada finds fault lies with feed

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 4, 2006
by WLJ
—Contaminated feed most likely source of BSE infection in 50-month cow.

The 50-month-old Alberta, Canada, dairy cow diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) last month probably contracted the disease from contaminated feed, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said last week.

The finding by CFIA came after an enforcement investigation was launched because the animal, born on a dairy farm near Edmonton, Alberta, contracted the disease well after the 1997 Canadian ruminant animal feed ban was put in place.

“A particular incident was documented in one commercial feed facility that may have permitted the contamination of a single batch of cattle feed with prohibited material,” CFIA said in a release Aug. 24. CFIA officials did not disclose the name of the plant which had manufactured the feed.

“The entire batch of feed was shipped to the BSE-positive animal’s farm. This particular batch of feed is the most probable source of infection,” CFIA’s report found.

The announcement came a day after Canada confirmed its eighth case of mad cow disease, two weeks ago. The most recent case was found in an Alberta beef cow believed to be between 8 and 10 years old.

Brad Wildeman, executive vice president of Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said the announcement of BSE being found in a 50-month-old animal caught the organization and much of the industry off guard. He attributed the case to the possibility that some of the feed mills or delivery trucks may not have been flushed properly early on during the first days of the feed ban.

“Some of the employees at these plants aren’t Harvard graduates, but if you look at CFIA’s assessment that compliance is in the range of 95 percent, it’s certainly possible that some trucker or plant didn’t flush their equipment properly,” Wildeman said. “As with anything government mandated before BSE was discovered in North America attention to the regulations probably wasn’t as good as it could have been. Now I’d say that people are far more observant of the regulations.”

He said there is significant concern among producers north of the border regarding the effect further cases of BSE would have on the plans to open the U.S. border to cattle over 30 months (OTM) of age.

“This has cost the industry a substantial amount and is still costing Canadian producers $1.2 million in lost value per day.” He said the inability of producers to ship cattle, such as seedstock and particularly dairy seedstock, has been devastating to the Canadian industry.

USDA, which has been working with CFIA on the investigation, said it had received a copy of the report and would factor it into the risk assessment and the pending regulation on Canadian import of animals OTM of age. USDA withdrew the OTM regulations from the rule-making shortly after CFIA announced the finding of BSE in the 50-month-old cow.
“We are now reviewing the report to determine whether it impacts the Department’s proposed minimal risk rule. The proposed rule would allow imports of animals over 30 months from countries that pose minimal risk. Data provided in today’s report will be factored into the current risk assessment,” USDA said after CFIA released its report.
The infected dairy cow died of complications arising from mastitis, not BSE. The CFIA report said it would likely have been several more months, at the earliest, before the animal exhibited any clinical signs of BSE infection. CFIA officials attributed the fact that the case was found prior to the onset of symptoms to the “robust” nature of the Canadian BSE surveillance system.

“This animal was detected and diagnosed with BSE during a pre-clinical phase of the disease. The normal disease course to expression of clinical signs in this animal would be expected to have included an additional three to six months of incubation followed by an additional one to two months of clinical expression prior to being recognized as symptomatic of BSE and targeted for testing. Had an unrelated disease not hastened her entry into the surveillance stream, this animal would most likely have demonstrated clinical signs sometime between 54 and 56 months, not significantly different from the age range of previous cases,” CFIA said.

Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, said the findings are troubling and underline the issues being addressed by R-CALF.

Bullard said the report brings to light new information which has not yet been taken into consideration. Specifically, he called attention to findings that showed the animal could have gone several more months before it developed clinical signs of the disease.

“If you look at the dates of birth and compare it to when the ban on animals under 30 months of age was lifted by USDA, it is clear this animal would have been eligible for importation to the U.S. and that we are still at risk of importing animals which have potentially been infected with BSE,” Bullard said.

He said this latest report shows the failure to implement the stringent feed ban guidelines recommended by an international team of scientists has left open significant pathways of BSE infection on both sides of the border.

USDA officials said they would also continue to monitor the investigation of Canada's eighth case of BSE found in a much older cow two weeks ago. Those findings will also be considered in the new minimal risk rule when it is reintroduced in the future.

In the investigation of the previous case, confirmed in July, two feed manufacturing facilities received prohibited materials from the same rendering plant implicated in previous BSE investigations, the CFIA report said.

CFIA tracked roughly 170 cows that originated at the same farm as the infected dairy cow. An expanded investigation located 38 live animals on the farm and in other herds to which they had been sold. Most of those animals have been destroyed and their carcasses burned.

Four animals have been retained under quarantine to allow for calving or collection of valuable genetic material, CFIA said. They will also be destroyed.

Of the remaining animals, 113 have died or been slaughtered. Eight animals were determined to be untraceable. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor