Canada's Food Inspection Agency said Sunday that an older dairy cow from the province of Alberta has tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.
TORONTO — U.S. agriculture officials reaffirmed their support for lifting the ban on Canadian beef despite the discovery of a second case of mad cow disease in Canada, expressing confidence that public health measures will protect American livestock and consumers.
Canada’s Food Inspection Agency said Sunday that an older dairy cow from the province of Alberta has tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. The results confirmed preliminary tests released earlier this week.
Canada suspects the cow became infected through contaminated animal feed. The cow was born in 1996, before a 1997 ban on certain types of feed, the agency said. It did not enter the human food or animal feed supply and posed no risk to the public, the agency said.
BSE attacks an animal’s nervous system. Food contaminated with BSE can afflict people with usually fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Canadian officials say the United States was aware of the suspected case when they made their suspicions known on Wednesday, the same day the U.S. Agriculture Department said it was planning to reopen the border to Canadian beef in March. Despite learning of the new suspected case, the Bush administration said the next day that it would stand by its decision to renew Canadian cattle imports.
The border was closed to Canadian beef 19 months ago when a cow in northern Alberta was discovered with mad cow disease. Concerns persisted after a Canadian-born cow in Washington state was found in December 2003 to have the disease.
On Sunday, U.S. agriculture officials reiterated support for lifting the ban.
“I don’t anticipate that this confirmation will change implementation of our rule,” said department spokeswoman Alisa Harrison. “I think it’s pretty much where we were last week. We’ve been working closely with Canadian officials.”
Harrison said the department based its decision to lift the ban on guidelines set by the World Health Organization showing Canada to be a minimal risk and took into consideration the possibility of additional mad cow cases in Canada.
Under the WHO guidelines, Harrison said, a country with 5.5 million head of cattle over 24 months of age, such as Canada, would still be considered a minimal risk if it had 11 cases of mad cow disease in a year.
Still Canada seemed to be holding its breath. The country sold more than 70 percent of its live cattle to the United States before the ban — a market worth $1.5 billion in 2002.
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke to President Bush on Friday about the new suspected case and Bush assured him that his administration was committed to reopening the border, a Canadian official said on condition of anonymity.
Since BSE was first diagnosed in Britain in 1986, there have been more than 180,000 cases of the chronic, degenerative disorder.
The decision to allow Canadian cows into the United States in light of the latest scare brought sharp responses from several Democratic lawmakers last week.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., called the decision “outrageous” and accused the Agriculture Department leadership of caring “more about the interests of mega-feed lots and processors than the interests of farmers, ranchers and consumers.”
Ron DeHaven, administrator of the agriculture department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, has said beef brought into the United States will be subject to both Canadian and U.S. inspection.
The USDA ruling, effective March 7, came with conditions. Canadian cattle must be slaughtered by the age of 30 months, which scientists say is too young to contract mad cow disease, and they must be transported in sealed containers.
The discovery in Washington state a year ago is the only confirmed case of mad cow disease in the United States. There have been a handful of suspected mad cow cases during preliminary screening in the United States, but more sophisticated tests produced negative results. Still, the USDA acknowledges that another mad cow case is likely to be discovered among the 40 million adult cattle in the United States.
Stan Eby, the President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, expressed confidence that the Bush administration wouldn’t change its mind.
“They made a very strong comment regarding this last week. We feel quite confident that the U.S. will follow through on their planned schedule,” he said.
Darcy Davis, chair of Alberta Beef Producers, said the new case should not cause too much concern among Canadian beef producers.
“It’s an ongoing concern with BSE, but at the same time we have the safeguards in place and we’re handling it scientifically now and we know that we have an extremely low incidence,” Davis said.
Investigators have identified the infected cow’s farm of origin and on Sunday were trying to identify any other infected animals — specifically, recently born offspring and cattle born on the same farm within a year of the infected animal.