Canada confirms new case of mad cow

Toronto, Ontario, Canada - The Canadian government confirmed Tuesday its second case of mad cow disease in 10 days, weeks before the United States is set to lift a ban on Canadian cattle imports.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell said the latest case of mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in an Alberta cow under 7 years old.

That means it was born after a 1997 feed ban in Canada removed the use of ruminants in feed, commonly believed to be the cause of the disease.

Officials stressed that no part of the animal entered the human or animal feed system. Mitchell said the case was unrelated to the January 2 case, also in an Alberta cow. 

Canada's first case of mad cow surfaced in May 2003, prompting the United States to close its border to Canadian beef imports.

Concerns persisted after a Canadian-born cow in Washington state was found in December 2003 to have the disease, which attacks the animal's nervous system. 

All three cases have involved animals from [the Canadian province of] Alberta. 

The case "is not unexpected, as we have already acknowledged that there is a low level of incidence of BSE in North America," Mitchell said. "The rules upon which beef should move between countries should be based on science, and we believe that Canada has clearly followed a scientific approach." 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced at the beginning of the month that the border could reopen in March [March 7, 2005].

A group of cattlemen has sued to block the lifting of the ban saying it will hurt producers and pose a risk to consumers.

After learning of the second case, the Bush administration said it would stand by its decision to resume Canadian cattle imports, expressing confidence that public health measures in both countries will protect U.S. livestock and consumers.

Mad cow disease eats holes in the brains of cattle. Food contaminated with BSE can afflict humans with a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is usually fatal.

Mad cow disease appeared in Britain in 1986 and spread through Europe and Asia, prompting massive destruction of herds and devastating the European beef industry. So far, 147 people in Britain, and another 10 elsewhere, are known to have contracted variant Crutzfeld-Jakob Disease since first identified.

Dr. Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the cow in the latest case was most likely exposed to feed before the ban came into effect in the fall of 1997, and his agency was investigating.

The Alberta farm feed may had some illegal materials as the system was flushed out, he said.

Mitchell pledged to toughen Canada's measures to prevent mad cow cases, saying CFIA, with an independent third party, would conduct an audit of the country's animal feed safety.

The border closure by the United States has cost the Canadian beef industry at least $3 billion. Before the trade ban, animals regularly crossed the border and Canada sold more than 70 percent of its live cattle to the United States.

Imports of some packaged beef resumed in the fall of 2003, but it was not until this month that Washington said it would resume trade in live animals under 30 months of age on March 7.

The USDA ruling declared Canada a "minimal-risk region" so that cattle could be shipped into the United States under certain restrictions. The cattle must be slaughtered by the age of 30 months, which scientists say is too young to contract mad cow disease, and they must also be transported in sealed containers to a feedlot or slaughter house.

Under World Health Organization guidelines, a country can still have 11 cases of mad cow disease in a year and still be considered a minimal-risk country.

A U.S. cattlemen's group sued the USDA on Monday to stop it from allowing live cattle and expanded beef imports from Canada. The lawsuit by R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America said the USDA's plan would pose a risk to consumers and U.S. producers.

Allowing the "commingling" of Canadian cattle and beef products with U.S. cattle and products, with no requirement that the beef products be labeled with their country of origin, "will likely interfere with or preclude the resumption of exports of edible bovine products from the United States," the lawsuit said.

Investors appeared to take the news in stride.

Cattle futures closed modestly higher on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Shares of big U.S. hamburger chains, other restaurant operators and meat processor Tyson Foods Inc. -- all of which had tumbled in 2003 following the disclosure of the first case of mad cow in Canada in a decade -- were trading higher for the most part on Tuesday afternoon.

McDonald's Corp. stock fell 52 cents to close at $31.15 but showed no change in direction after the latest mad-cow announcement. Shares in other companies that took big dives on the 2003 news -- Wendy's International Inc., Tyson, Outback Steakhouse Inc., Jack in the Box Inc., Applebee's International Inc., Bob Evans Farms Inc. and drive-in operator Sonic Corp. -- all were trading fractionally higher for the day.




Copyright 2005, The Associated Press.

Copyright 2005, The Billings Gazette.

For more information/facts:

The South Dakota Stock Growers Association

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America

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