BSE Surveillance in Canada Front and Center

Provided by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

After seven long years, suffice to say bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is something the Canadian cattle industry would prefer to put behind it for good. The reality is it will take several more years of continued robust surveillance before Canada can definitively say that BSE is eradicated from the Canadian herd.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) counts on beef producers’ continued support of the national BSE surveillance program. Robust surveillance will play a critical role in demonstrating how effective the enhanced feed ban of July 2007 – which further protected animal health by banning specified risk materials from all animal feeds, pet foods, and fertilizers – has been when the CFIA starts its review of the feed ban in 2012.

“Then we will have good scientific information to determine what adjustments we can and cannot make within the feed ban scenario,” said Dr. Brian Evans, the CFIA’s chief veterinary officer/chief food safety officer.

Another reality of the enhanced feed ban is that the animals born since then are only now in the three to four year age range. Canada has never found a BSE case in an animal that young, so the impact of the enhanced feed ban in terms of getting Canada past BSE and truly eradicating it from the herd won’t be fully assessed until animals born in 2006 and 2007 reach the six, seven, and eight year age range.

“That means we’re in this for a few more years,” Evans said.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association supports BSE surveillance as a tool to measure the effectiveness of Canada’s animal health controls that will benefit the long-term economic well-being of the cattle industry.

The CFIA’s reminder call for surveillance participation comes amid shrinking test numbers. Tests declined from 2007 to 2008 by 13,598 tests to 48,808 and softened again from 2008 to 2009 by 14,190 to 34,618 tests. While Canada still met its minimum threshold during this period in terms of making sure the integrity of the surveillance program wasn’t compromised, Evans said a higher level of participation is the goal going forward.

As of the end of September, Canada had performed 27,460 BSE surveillance tests, a number largely in line with the same time last year and nearing Canada’s minimum annual surveillance target of 30,000 BSE tests. This target was originally based on a national herd size of between five million and six million adult cattle. Based on Statistics Canada data, the adult cattle population is still fluctuating in this range, at approximately 5.4 million as of January 1, 2010. Ideally, Evans would like to see surveillance numbers return to 2008 levels if at all possible. He believes this a realistic goal, based on the current size of the national herd and ongoing commitment present within the cattle industry to responsibly manage BSE.

“We don’t want to be seen as doing the minimum necessary; we want to make sure we’re doing what’s appropriate and that it meets the broad needs of all the people that are watching what we’re doing,” he explained.

And while there are frustrations around the pace of which foreign market access is being restored, Evans said surveillance is a necessary component of opening new markets as Canada continues to move forward to demonstrate its level of commitment to surveillance, while the surveillance results show it’s effective.

“It’s not just about market expansion, it’s also about market maintenance in terms of that trust,” Evans said.

Under Canada’s national BSE surveillance program, when an eligible sample is submitted for testing, the CFIA pays the producer $75 to help cover eventual carcass disposal costs. The national program targets animals most at risk for the disease: cattle over 30 months of age that are dead, down, dying, or diseased, and cattle exhibiting strong clinical signs of BSE.

In Alberta, the surveillance program is a joint effort of Alberta Agriculture and the CFIA and managed differently. The focus is on cattle between 30 and 107 months of age that are sick and deemed unfit for human consumption and on animals that are down, distressed, or dead. Cattle over 107 months of age no longer qualify for sampling for BSE testing unless the animal is displaying clear neurological signs confirmed by a certified veterinarian.

December 2010 RENDER | back