One day after the Agriculture Department announced that concern over mad-cow disease no longer should keep the border closed to live cattle from Canada, the Ottawa government revealed...
WASHINGTON — One day after the Agriculture Department announced that concern over mad-cow disease no longer should keep the border closed to live cattle from Canada, the Ottawa government revealed yesterday that it has detected another suspected case of the disease in a dairy cow.
Canadian officials said two preliminary tests on the 10-year-old Alberta animal were positive for the disease but it will take several days to complete a definitive third test. Canada’s food-safety agency said no parts of the animal had entered the food supply.
While the timing of the announcement raised suspicions that Canadian officials had waited to report the findings until after the USDA announced its support for reopening the border to cattle imports, USDA officials said the two developments were unrelated.
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“As unfortunate as the timing may seem, it is purely coincidence,” said Ron DeHaven, the agency’s chief veterinarian. He said the USDA would continue to push for reopening the border even if the animal turns out to be infected with the brain-wasting disease.
“We took into account the possibility that other cases would be found,” he said.
In its announcement Wednesday that it intends to re-open the border to live cattle in March, the USDA said it did so because Canada meets the World Organization for Animal Health’s definition of a “minimal-risk” region. DeHaven said that, under the international organization’s guidelines, Canada could have as many as 10 cases of mad-cow disease in its adult cattle in a seven-year period and still be considered a minimal-risk zone.
The first North American cow infected with the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was found in Canada 20 months ago, and a second animal was discovered in Mabton, Yakima County, in late 2003. That animal also was raised in Canada.
Soon after the first infected Canadian animal was detected, the United States stopped imports of most beef products, and all live cattle, across the northern border. The rules have been relaxed gradually as time has passed without new cases, but the Canadian government and many large U.S. and Canadian beef concerns have exerted strong pressure to reopen the live-cattle trade.
In announcing its plans, the USDA said that, as a precaution, only animals younger than 30 months old would be allowed in for sale to U.S. consumers. But the American Meat Institute, which represents meat and poultry companies, filed suit yesterday in federal court to have the USDA rule extended to animals older than 30 months as well.
“Calling Canadian beef unsafe is like calling your twin sister ugly,” said Mark Dopp, the institute’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs and general counsel. “The U.S. and Canada both have implemented state-of-the-art meat-inspection and animal-disease-prevention systems. As we look across the borders, we see near mirror images of one another.”
Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America was critical of the USDA decision, which she thinks should be reconsidered, and called the timing of the Canadian announcement of another possibly infected cow as “extraordinary.”
She said the discovery could signal that there is an ongoing problem, adding, “I’m really not sure who will want to buy that meat once it comes over the border.”
The mad-cow infection, in rare cases, has spread to people who ate the infected meat, although that never has been known to happen in North America. The disease is always fatal in humans.