Age of cow to determine implications of latest BSE case

UPDATED: Monday February 15, 2015 – 1400 CST – South Korea temporarily suspends Canadian beef imports in wake of BSE diagnosis in Alberta beef cow. Details here.

UPDATED: Sunday February 15, 2015 – 1140 CST – A timeline of events of the discovery of Canada’s 19th case of BSE has been released by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency:

February 7, 2015: results of a BSE sample taken by a private veterinarian on a downer beef cow at a farm in northern Alberta were tested in a provincial testing lab and reported as “non-negative” for BSE.

In Alberta, farmers are paid $75 a head to encourage testing of down, diseased or dead cattle for BSE. In order to meet international requirements, Alberta must test 10,000 animals each year and 30,000 animals must be tested across the country each year for the brain wasting disease. The last case of BSE was 2011.

February 9, 2015: the sample was sent to the CFIA’s federal lab in Lethbridge for additional testing and confirmation of the disease. The same day CFIA inspectors begin discussions with the farmer, whose farm is now under quarantine.

February 10, 2015: CFIA officials began gathering information on the suspect animal’s herd of origin. The cow was not born on the farm where BSE was discovered.

February 11, 2015: CFIA confirmed BSE in the beef cow.

February 12, 2015: Canadian officials started to notify key trading partners of Canada’s latest case of BSE.


UPDATED: Friday February 13, 2015 – 1410 CST – The age of the northern Alberta downer beef cow that tested positive for BSE Feb. 11 will determine the impact on Canada’s livestock industry.

If the cow is over 11 years old, there will be very little impact.

If the cow is under 11 years old, Canada will no longer be able to apply to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to have Canada’s status moved from “controlled BSE risk” to “negligible,” said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“If it is less than 11 years, it will push the clock back for us,” said Laycraft.

“We do know the normal incubation period is four to seven years. That would be outside the normal odds on this. We are not going to speculate,” said Laycraft of Calgary.

Under the OIE criteria, a country can be categorized as negligible risk if it has never had a case of BSE in a domestic animal or if any infected animals were born more than 11 years ago.

Canada’s last confirmed case of BSE was reported in 2011 in a cow born in August 2004.

Canadian officials were only months away from applying for a change in the OIE risk status and had spent the winter encouraging producers to have their animals tested. Canada is required to test 30,000 head each year as part of the surveillance program.

In 2014, Canada tested just over 27,000 cattle for BSE.

The downer beef cow was discovered through Canada’s BSE on-farm surveillance program. It was the 19th animal in Canada to test positive for the brain-wasting disease.

Gerald Hauer, Alberta’s chief provincial veterinarian, said the cow was detected on the farm.

“We did detect a non-negative sample in our lab,” said Hauer of Edmonton.

The sample was sent on to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, who confirmed BSE in the downer cow.

“They will be determining the age, looking at potential ways it could have got infected. Because it is so early in the investigation they don’t have a whole lot,” said Hauer.

Despite ongoing testing for BSE in cattle, Laycraft said they were still surprised with the discovery of the positive animal.

“All of us were very surprised. I have studied this enough to know there have been examples of these animals showing up so I knew that there was the possibility, but when it’s been four years since the last one, you certainly hope that was the last one we were going to see.”

Dave Solverson, CCA chair, was also surprised at the latest case.

“If it was an older animal, then my surprise won’t be as high. If it was five or six, then it will be a little more concerning to figure out where the source came from,” said Solverson of Camrose.

While the latest case might have an impact on applying for the new OIE risk category, it won’t have the same impact as the discovery of BSE in a northern Alberta cow in 2003.

“It won’t have the impact on trade that it did 12 years ago. The world knows so much more about BSE and the controlling of it. It is not as scary as it was in ’03 when we didn’t know a lot about BSE.”

In 2003, Canada’s livestock industry was thrown into chaos when a northern Alberta cow tested positive for BSE, the first homegrown case of BSE. Countries closed their borders to Canadian beef and cattle and cost Canadians billions in lost markets.

Since 2003, Canada’s surveillance and testing program has improved dramatically. BSE is passed between animals from feed. The specified risk material is removed from the animal and rendered and not put in the feed.

BSE is transferred to animals through contaminated feed.

CFIA officials are investigating the animal’s age, its history and how it became infected.

Canadian agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said the cow was not born on the farm, and CFIA officials will be searching the records for the cow’s history.

“It was not indigenous to that farm so they will start doing the trace out,” said Ritz.

“There is always concern there might be more and that is why we have a very fulsome testing procedure. We don’t change from our controlled risk status that we enjoy right now, so we don’t see this interfering with any of our trade corridors at this point in time,” said Ritz.

“When you test to the degree that Canada does, you are going to find these types of things. That is why we do it to assure our trading partners we have a good robust, traceability system.”

Under the surveillance program, an animal over 30 months of age fitting one of the five risk categories are encouraged to have a veterinarian test the animal for BSE.

In 2014, just over 27,000 animals in Canada were tested for BSE. The OIE requires Canada to test 30,000 animals a year. Because of the size of Alberta’s herd, 10,000 of those animals are required to be tested in Alberta.


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