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Canada's Tenth Mad Cow Rouses Concern South of the Border

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, May 3, 2007 (ENS) - Mad cow disease has been found in a dairy cow on a farm in Delta, British Columbia, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed on Wednesday, the tenth Canadian cow to be found with the fatal disease since 2003. South of the border in the United States, only two cases of mad cow disease have been reported.

American legislators and cattle producers are urging the placement of country of origin labels on meat so consumers can distinguish U.S. from Canadian beef products.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, CFIA, said it has the carcass of the five-and-a-half year old animal and no part of it entered the human food or animal feed systems.

CFIA is now tracing other animals from the same herd in an attempt to determine precisely how the cow became infected.

Mad cow disease, technically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, is a progressive, brain-wasting disease in cattle. It is part of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

BSE is spread by prions - misfolded proteins that originate as regular components of neurological tissues in animals. There is no effective treatment or vaccine and affected animals die.

Found in 26 countries, including Canada and the United States, BSE is spread through animal feed such as meat and bone meal that contains protein from BSE-infected animals. Cattle are naturally vegetarian and left to themselves do not eat animal tissue.

Canada reported its first case of mad cow disease in a native born animal on May 20, 2003 and since has reported nine other cases. This is the second case detected in British Columbia, where another was found in April 2006. Another case was discovered in Manitoba, while most have originated in Alberta.

The latest case was detected on a farm south of Vancouver by a national surveillance program that targets cattle most at risk, the Canadian food inspection agency said. About 160,000 animals have been tested since 2003.

The animal's age, combined with the long incubation period for mad cow disease indicates "the cow was exposed to a very small amount of infected material, likely during its first year of life," according to CFIA. The mad cow disease incubation period ranges from two to eight years.

In infected cattle, BSE concentrates in certain tissues known legally as specified risk material, including skull, brain, eyes, tonsils, spinal cord and nervous system of cattle aged 30 months or older, and part of the small intestine of cattle of all ages.

Cattle tissues identified as specified risk material are not generally consumed as food, but during processing they could be included unintentionally in meat products for human consumption.

To limit the spread of BSE among cattle, the Canada and the United states banned most proteins, including specified risk materials, from cattle feed in 1997.

To provide further animal health protection, as of July 12, 2007, specified risk materials are also banned from all animal feeds, pet foods and fertilizers.

On April 13, the Canadian government announced an C$80 million program to help the cattle industry remove all specified risk material from the animal feeds, pet foods and fertilizers.

South of the border, American lawmakers and cattle producers are not reassured.

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, introduced legislation today that would prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, from expanding imports of Canadian cattle until the agency implements a system that allows consumers to see in which country their meat was produced.

That system, known as Country of Origin Labeling, COOL, was scheduled, by law, to be in place by September 30, 2004. But the Bush administration has delayed its implementation several times. It is now not scheduled to be in place until September 30, 2008.

After the first Canadian mad cow was found in 2003, the United States banned the import of Canadian beef, but in 2006 lifted the ban for some products. Currently cattle from Canada younger than 30 months, and boxed beef are allowed to enter the United States. In January, the Bush administration proposed allowing animals older than 30 months to enter the U.S. sometime later this year.

"There is no longer any excuse for delaying implementation of COOL," Dorgan said today. "Consumers have the right to know where their meat is coming from, and to make their own decision - fully informed decisions - about whether they want to be putting beef from Canada on their dinner table, under the current circumstances.

"It is clear that Canada has a continuing problem with mad cow disease, and American families have a right to know whether their beef is coming from Canada."

"It makes no sense to move forward so quickly with this plan to resume imports of Canadian beef when it poses such a clear risk to an important industry here in America," Dorgan said. "I feel bad that the Canadians are having problems, but we have an obligation to look after our own beef industry first."

Senators Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, and Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, joined Dorgan as co-sponsors of the bill.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis called the latest case of BSE "very troubling."

"It becomes even more disturbing when you consider that USDA has proposed to re-open the Canadian border and allow live cattle imports born after March 1, 1999 and beef of any age into the United States," said Buis. "The Canadian border should remain closed until mandatory COOL is implemented and Canada can demonstrate that its problem is under control."

Speaking for the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, R-CALF USA, CEO Bill Bullard agrees.

From his office in Billings, Montana, Bullard said, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed its responsibility to adequately protect the U.S. cattle herd, the U.S. beef supply, U.S. export markets and U.S. consumers from Canada's widespread problem with bovine spongiform encephalopathy."

"Despite a very limited amount of testing, six cases of BSE have been confirmed in Canadian cattle born after Canada implemented its feed ban in 1997 - despite USDA's unsupported insistence that the Canadian feed ban has been effective in preventing the spread of the disease," Bullard said.

"Why is it that U.S. farmers and ranchers have to pay the expense of a lawsuit in order to force USDA to do the job that hard-working taxpayers have already paid the agency to do," asked R-CALF USA Region I Director Margene Eiguren. "There is something wrong with our government when economic trade goals are allowed to continually trump legitimate health and safety concerns."

Canadian BSE mitigation measures are weak when compared to European countries and Japan, which have comparable incidences of the disease, R-CALF says. "Canada's feed ban is weaker, its BSE testing program is less inclusive, and its policies on removal of specified risk materials also are less stringent."

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says that in 1997, rendered protein products derived from almost all mammals were banned for use in ruminant feed. Cows are ruminant animals, defined as any cud-chewing, even-toed, hoofed mammal, including bison, buffalo, deer, and antelopes.

"Canadian producers may only feed their ruminants approved animal protein products such as pure porcine, equine, poultry and fish," the food inspection agency says. "Banned as ingredients in ruminant feeds are 'prohibited materials' - protein including meat and bone meal from mammals other than pigs and horses. Milk, blood, gelatin, rendered animal fats or their products have not been banned."

Mad cow disease was first confirmed in southern England in December 1986. A rapid rise in the number of cases of BSE in the United Kingdom followed the initial diagnosis, with an annual peak of 37,280 confirmed cases in 1992.