R-CALF: Canada’s 19th case of BSE detected; why is U.S. last to know?
BILLINGS, MT – In a news article circulated by the U.S. Animal Health Association March 4, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) purportedly announced on March 3, 2011, that Canada had confirmed on Feb. 18, 2011, that it had detected yet another Canadian cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. The CCA reported the cow was a 77-month-old Alberta dairy cow, making it the 19th case of BSE in Canada’s cattle herd.
At just over six years of age, this cow would have been born in 2004 and infected with BSE either in 2004 or 2005, which provides absolute evidence that the BSE agent was circulating in Canada’s feed system long after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared that Canada had its BSE problem under control. USDA has confirmed to R-CALF USA the Canadian government had indeed notified USDA officials about this latest case back in February, but did not plan on publicizing the fact until March 10 when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) posts its next monthly animal disease report.
“In fact, this case is the 12th BSE-positive animal to meet USDA’s age-eligibility requirement for export to the United States under the November 2007 OTM (over-30-month) rule that allows the U.S. to import cattle from Canada that are over 30 months of age, as long as such cattle were born after March 1, 1999,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard
“Canada already has exported 681,135 of their higher-risk, older cows and bulls to the United States since USDA’s OTM rule went into effect in 2007, and these cows and bulls are not required to be tested for BSE before they are slaughtered and introduced into the U.S. food chain,” he pointed out.
“Why is the United States – which annually imports hundreds of thousands of Canada’s high-risk cattle – the last to know when BSE is detected in Canada’s cattle herd?” Bullard asked. “Like this case, the BSE-positive animal detected in 2010 was kept a secret by USDA, and the public was not informed until R-CALF USA issued a news release almost two weeks after the disease’s confirmation.”
“Consumers – now more than ever – should be telling their grocers they want the products in the meat counter labeled with country-of-origin information so they can decide on their own whether to avoid products from countries with ongoing disease problems, particularly now that USDA chooses not to disclose such important disease information,” said R-CALF USA Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group’s animal health committee.
Less than a year ago, when Canada detected its 18th case of BSE, R-CALF USA and 75 U.S. organizations representing tens of millions of American livestock producers and consumers sent formal correspondence to USDA to request the agency to immediately overturn the OTM rule. The groups’ letter stated that USDA’s relaxed import standards are putting not only U.S. beef consumers at risk, but also the U.S. cattle herd and the livelihoods of independent U.S. cattle producers.
“We couldn’t be more disappointed in USDA’s lack of response to our joint request,” Bullard said. “For going on eight years now, USDA has done nothing to ensure that U.S. consumers and the U.S. cattle herd is not being continually exposed to Canada’s BSE problem, and it is USDA’s refusal to maintain adequate import standards that continues to give U.S. export customers a valid excuse to continue restricting U.S. beef exports.
“There are no restrictions on Canada’s higher-risk OTM cattle when they enter the United States,” he continued. “These higher-risk cattle are allowed to commingle with the U.S. herd, enter the U.S. food supply and enter the non-ruminant U.S. animal feed system. USDA has an absolute duty to protect the U.S. cattle herd, as well as U.S. beef consumers from the introduction of BSE that is known to be occurring under the OTM Rule. R-CALF is again calling on USDA to immediately rescind the OTM Rule.”
According to Canadian data, Canada tested only 35,655 cattle in 2010 for BSE, and only 34,617 were tested in 2009. In 2008, 48,804 cattle were tested. In 2007, approximately 59,000 head were tested, and in January 2011, only 3,280 Canadian cattle were tested for the disease.
“Canada’s BSE testing is voluntary, and based on the significant numbers of BSE-positive cattle detected under very limited testing, Canada’s BSE prevalence rate is likely far higher than USDA estimated when it predicted that the OTM Rule would result in the importation of 19 BSE-infected cattle during the 20 years covered by USDA’s risk modeling,” Bullard concluded. “The result is that the United States is assuming a much higher risk for the introduction of BSE than the negligible risk that USDA claims.”
R-CALF USA, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, five national consumer groups and several individual ranchers have a pending lawsuit against USDA’s OTM Rule in a South Dakota federal court. As a result of this litigation, the court ordered USDA to reopen the OTM Rule and “to revise any provisions of the OTM Rule it deems necessary.”
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