Alberta BSE testing changes

Changes to Alberta’s BSE surveillance program effective Nov. 1 are designed to encourage producers to provide a larger number of samples.

Cattle owners can now submit any animal older than 30 months for BSE testing if it is dead, down, diseased or distressed, or if its showing neurological signs of illness. Previously an upper age limit of 107 months was in effect for Alberta.

A restriction on time of ownership has also been removed. Producers can submit animals showing any of the above noted high risk categories regardless of how long they’ve owned the animals. The previous restriction was 30 days of possession.

The $75 per animal reimbursement to producers for submitting an animal remains in effect.

Dr. Gerald Hauer, chief provincial veterinarian for Alberta, said the changes were made to increase the number of animals submitted for testing.

“We recognized that the numbers of samples coming into our program are reduced from what they were before,” he said.

The other goal was to make Alberta’s program more consistent with those elsewhere in Canada.

Changes to the term of ownership requirements were made in light of better market prices for cull cows.

“The main reason for that was, for animal welfare reasons, we felt that it was not prudent to have a system that would allow farmers to go around collecting up the older cows, cows that are unfit for transportation and things like that, collect them up and put them into the BSE program,” said Hauer.

That did happen in the early days of the BSE surveillance program but is less common now, he said.

“Market conditions are different now. We don’t feel there’s as much potential for animal welfare issues around that, so we felt it was time to take that one out.”

Hauer said Alberta would ideally like to test about 10,000 animals per year for BSE. That target was not met last year. Nationally, the goal is to test about 30,000 animals.

In 2005, two years after BSE was discovered in Canada, 57,000 samples were tested across the country. That dropped to 48,000 by 2008.

Tests as of Sept. 30, 2012, totaled 19,943. That was down substantially from the January to September period of 2011, when 27,429 samples were collected.

Hauer said a group formed to address BSE testing is preparing a campaign o encourage producers to increase the number of animals submitted. Rural veterinarians are also being approached to encourage more tests.

“The ultimate beneficiary of the BSE surveillance is the cattle industry. What it does is it maintains the confidence in beef products both domestically and internationally,” Hauer said.

“It really is a partnership. … We need to both be doing our part. This is just a gentle reminder.”