BSE samplings fail to meet test target

Provincial sampling under par | Industry must maintain surveillance to reduce risk, says CFIA

Canada is still meeting its BSE surveillance targets, but the provinces with the two largest herds are falling behind.

That concerns the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which sets the targets and answers to the international community.

The agency has met with industry and provincial representatives to discuss how to meet the targets and remind producers of the importance of testing.

The minimum annual target is 30,000 tests across the country, but each province has a target based on the adult cattle population.

The CFIA says Alberta should contribute 10,000 samples a year, while Saskatchewan should submit 6,800 to 7,800.

However, the numbers have been far below the targets for the last three years.

Saskatchewan producers submitted 4,447 samples in 2009, 3,212 in 2010 and 3,200 projected for 2011.

Alberta submitted 6,765 tests in 2009, 9,739 in 2010 and a projected 7,000 for 2011.

Dr. Keith Lehman, animal health program manager for CFIA in Western Canada, said Canada’s trading partners haven’t yet expressed concern, but the industry should keep an eye on the numbers.

“The surveillance is a very important part of our OIE risk categorization,” he said of the World Organization for Animal Health.

The OIE now considers Canada to be a controlled risk country. For that status to change to negligible risk, the country must not have had a positive case for at least 11 years following the birth date of the last positive case.

The last confirmed positive cow was born in 2004, which means 2015 is the soonest Canada can move to negligible risk status.

That is also the date when animals born after the 2007 enhanced feed ban start to enter the testing system.

Lehman said an effective surveillance program is critical when Canada applies for a status change and says there hasn’t been a positive case.

“They could say, ‘yeah, but you haven’t been looking very hard,’ ” he said.

Dr. Gerald Hauer, Alberta’s chief veterinary officer, said the number of tests is important, but so is getting the right kind of cattle within that number to prove the testing is meaningful. The OIE introduced a point system a few years ago to indicate the value of a tested animal.

“That cow that’s either under 30 months or a healthy cow at slaughter actually gives very little value to the surveillance,” he said.

The highest value cow would be four to seven years old and displaying neurological signs.

“That cow gives you anywhere between 700 to 1,200 points, where a healthy cow at slaughter quite often gives you zero or .01,” Hauer said.

Animals most at risk for the disease are those older than 30 months that are dead, down, dying or diseased or those exhibiting clinical signs of BSE.

Lehman said producers play an integral role in determining which animals best fit the surveillance scheme. They have valuable information about their cattle and whether BSE might have been responsible for their deaths.

Rob McNabb, operations manager at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the Canadian Animal Health Coalition, said producers may not be submitting samples because older, healthy cows that can be loaded for transport are worth money right now. As well, the beef herd has shrunk.

“The number of animals that would fit into the profile of what would be appropriate for testing, there are fewer of,” he said.

McNabb said some question whether the 30,000 target is still appropriate, given the size of the herd, but in the meantime testing has to continue.

“We’re going to work with CFIA and the province to communicate and promote that for the good of the industry, it’s still worthwhile,” he said.

The CFIA’s BSE surveillance program reimburses cattle owners $75 for each sample submitted. The veterinarian submitting the sample also receives $100 for collecting it.

Hauer said Canada isn’t in immediate danger of losing its current OIE status because the tests are considered on a rolling seven-year average.

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