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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Mad Cow and Wasting Disease

By: Shirley Greene

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January 25, 2005 – Author's Update

I originally researched and wrote this piece in July 2004. Since that time, several significant events have taken place:

FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine

Their most recent bulletin, dated November 4, 2004 explains evaluations of two commercial test kits designed to detect animal proteins in animal feed. Having an on-site testing method is extremely important and immediately relevant because in January 2005 a Canadian cow was discovered that had contracted BSE after their feed ban was in place.

Two Canadian Cows Tested Positive for BSE in January, 2005

Between January 3 and January 13, 2005, two additional cows have tested positive for BSE in Canada. The first cow, approximately eight years old, was given feed prior to food restriction bans. This case was not unexpected.

The second cow, however, is making headline news in both Canada and, to a lesser degree, the United States, because it was born after restrictions banning the feeding of animal proteins to cattle went into effect.

The infected cow was behaving "fairly normally" before it slipped and injured itself in late December (2004) prompting a call to the local veterinarian, who asked for euthanization and BSE testing as part of Canada's surveillance system. Tests came back positive for BSE.

Can you believe that feed restrictions, put into place in 1997, said that: "pre-ban feed can still be used until it runs out?" Many Canadian cattlemen estimated that could have taken up to three years.

On January 14, 2005, the Globe and Mail newspaper (Canada) reported that the search for the source of the latest mad cow case had come down to a readily available grain supplement an Alberta farmer bought nearly a year after strict new safeguards were put into place. The farmer, Wilheim Vohs, fed the supplement to 104 animals in his 1998 calf crop. Of that number 34 were used for breeding and the rest wound up in feedlots for slaughter.

The investigation into the contents of the supplement, its manufacturer and the mill selling it remains ongoing.

Ah, Politics...Quotes from Alberta's Premier re BSE

January 14, 2005: Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said: "BSE is overblown; the illness should be renamed BS."

Additional infamous advice given by Ralph Klein to cattlemen in Alberta if they should discover a BSE cow in their herd: "Shoot, shovel and shut up."

Controversy in Canada – Science and Politics

January 13, 2005 Editorial from the CBC states:

"It is a sad state of affairs indeed that forces Canadians to rely on Washington's assurance that Canadian beef is safe for Americans, and therefore safe for them to eat, too. But, that is the price we pay for our government's apparent willingness to put economic interests ahead of public health."

Toronto Star Editorial of January 10, 2005:

"As officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency scramble to find out it if was an isolated case of BSE, those three letters could again become a "Bad Sign for our Exports."

On January 20, 2005, an editorial in the Toronto Star newspaper said:

"Both Canada and the United States are relying on a feed ban to stop mad cow disease, but the effectiveness of the ban can be gauged only if there is widespread, comprehensive testing of cattle. No one knows yet how this young cow was infected or whether the ban was violated somehow."

To address the threat in cattle feed, the Canadian government has proposed a tighter ban on ruminant materials that would bar so-called specified risk materials from being used for ANY animal feed or in fertilizer. The highest risk cattle materials would be entirely out of circulation, although such things as blood, milk, gelatin and rendered fat could still be turned into feed for chickens and pigs.

The editorial went on to call for "Canadian and American cattle tested rigorously for the presence of mad cow disease."

United States announces plans to reopen the border for Canadian beef cattle The United States Department of Agriculture announced that the ban on live Canadian beef cattle under thirty months old will be lifted on March 7, 2005. Resolve to stick with this timetable, despite two additional cases of BSE in Canadian cattle in 2005, has led to vigorous objections by American cattle producers.

The United Stockgrowers of America –vs- USDA: Lawsuit filed January 10, 2005

On January 10, 2005 the group known as R-Calif., USA (R-Calif. United Stockgrowers of America) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the USDA's Final Rule on reopening the Canadian border to live cattle younger than 30 months and beef products from animals of all ages.

This lawsuit lists approximately seventy allegations aimed at proving that the USDA is being "arbitrary and capricious and abusing its discretion in failing to consider relevant information or response to public comments."

Plaintiffs are asking the court to force the USDA to:

"revise and seriously reconsider its determination that opening the US border to Canadian cattle and meat would present little risk to US animals, human consumers and the livestock industry with the United States."

For a complete transcript of the complaint go to:

United States Economics

Not only are American cattlemen upset because of public health reasons, they are trying to prevent what they believe could become an economic disaster if the ban on Canadian beef is lifted.

While Canadian beef was banned, American producers had a smaller base of competition along with increased demand. The discovery of two more Alberta cows infected with BSE just weeks before the ban is supposed to be lifted has given a scientific boost to their economic argument.

American beef producers believe that Japan is much less likely to lift its ban on United States beef when the United States allows Canadian cattle imports. The only BSE positive cow found within the United States hailed from Canada.

United States Senate Agriculture Committee Hearings

The United States Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled meetings to begin on February 3, 2005, regarding whether beef trade restrictions with Canada should be lifted, as planned, on March 7, 2005.

And, Back to Dog Food and My Views

Currently, in the United States, no regulations exist regarding the content of dog food. Yet, it is a known that feed lots serve dog food to cattle.

Perhaps rules, regulations and regular testing for foods intended for canine consumption are needed not so much to protect dogs, who appear to be resistant or immune to BSE, but to protect the American beef industry and consumers.

The more information that I glean regarding BSE, the more it seems that action that should be based in science is influenced by politics and economics. So many factions have an agenda and there are powerful lobbying groups on both sides of the border.

Who is looking out for the consumer? How much confidence can Canadians muster when the Premier of Alberta recommends: "shoot, shovel and shut up?" Why must a lawsuit be filed in order to have Senate hearings and the USDA reconsider its dates for lifting the Canadian beef ban?

Can science and reasonable minds prevail in setting a responsible course of action that lessens the possibility of a BSE outbreak in North America?

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