The requirements for BSE risk status are under consideration.
Under current rules at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE),a country must be BSE free for 11 years since the birthdate of the last infected case. Countries like Canada with controlled risk status argue that period needs to shorten, providing they meet other requirements like surveillance and strict feed rules.
“As BSE is becoming eradicated, what you want is countries to have very strong surveillance so we can actually prove it is going away. The problem is if you look hard and you find a case, you get punished for that,” said John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
Canada’s last case was in 2015 in a cow born in 2009 so it is not eligible to change its status until 2020.
The United Kingdom, Ireland and France have also discovered cases in that 11-year window and face trade restrictions.
The International Beef Secretariat promotes a change in the rules with a focus on control and surveillance.
Last year, the OIE established a scientific commission to look at the question. During the 2017 meeting in May, the committee said control and surveillance should be the focus and questioned the rationality of the 11-year rule.
It made two recommendations: join negligible and controlled risk categories into one category, or focus the decision on whether a country moves from controlled to negligible risk on the qualitative factors.
“There was not a lot of support for uniting the two categories into one, but there was recognition of the idea for focusing on the qualitative factors,” Masswohl said.
Canada is part of a working group to make changes but it is not known if a proposed new chapter could be presented at the 2018 OIE session.
“Canada’s approach to eliminating the spread of BSE in the national herd is accomplished through various risk management strategies,” said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in an email.
The 2007 enhanced feed ban outlines strict controls to prevent specified risk materials, a potential source of infections, from entering feed and fertilizer systems.
CFIA’s analysis of individual cases born after the original ruminant feed ban determined cross-contamination with prohibited material was still occurring. Analysis determined that while the degree of BSE control afforded by the original ban from 1997 was sufficient to prevent an expanding epidemic in Canada, it could not eradicate the disease. For these reasons, the CFIA proceeded with the design and implementation of the enhanced ban.
Born after the ban (BARB) cows continued to appear, with the most recent case occurring on an Alberta farm in a Black Angus cow born in 2009, 20 months after the enhanced feed ban was made law. That farm also had a case in a cow born in March 2004.
The subsequent investigation decided contaminated feed brought onto the farm before the implementation of the enhanced feed ban was the probable cause.
In Europe, 60 BSE cases were born after the total feed ban put in place in 2001. The European Food Safety Authority published its finding about the most likely origins of these cases and if spontaneous cases were possible.
“Feeding material contaminated with the BSE agent cannot be excluded as the origin of any of the BARB-60 cases, nor is it possible to definitively attribute feed as the case of any of the BARB-60 cases,” said the report in a 45-page document released in July.
“During the first years of implementation, there were a large number of deficiencies reported that could have compromised the feed ban, and that increased the risk that contaminated processed animal proteins could have entered the feed chain,” said the report.
Eleven members of the EU had cases with the most found in the United Kingdom at 28 cases, Ireland at 12 and seven in Spain. The other affected countries had one to three cases early on after the ban. None of the animals made it to the food chain.
Research has shown small amounts of infected material, as little as one milligram, could be responsible for disease. The infective material has a long life and the disease has a long incubation period from the time the animal eats it until signs of the disease appear.
Other problems are that some countries did not implement the ban right away, animal protein products were not properly separated during processing and there was a lack of documentation of practices.
“It is widely accepted that the initial feed bans, while very effective at reducing numbers of cases, were not as robust as they needed to be,” said the report.
Surveillance is ongoing in Europe. Between 2001-2015 nearly 98 million cattle were tested. The 60 positive cases were found in that surveillance.
The BARB cases followed a similar pattern to the epidemic when BSE was at its height in the 1990s. Most cases appeared in 2008 and have tapered off since.