by JIM ALGIE
More should be known by Monday about an Alberta, beef cow that tested positive for BSE, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association General Manager Rob McNabb said in an interview, Friday.
The first case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) since 2011 should not change Canada’s trading status for beef or livestock, McNabb said.
However, details of a current, Canadian Food Inspection Agency investigation, announced Thursday, could affect current Canadian expectations of a return next year to “negligible” status for the disease under a World Organization for Animal Health classification system.
Much depends on the age of the infected animal, McNabb said in a telephone interview, Friday, a day after CFIA announced positive test results.
“It’s a cow and that’s all we know at this point until they determine the exact birth date through the records that the original owner had,” the Cattlemen’s association general manager said. “We anticipate we will hear something in the next day or so about the age of the animal,” he said.
Investigators need to focus on determining the owner of the animal at birth and determining its actual age so they can “trace out its birth cohort and do an investigation as to what the potential route of infection was,” McNabb said.
“Our understanding is that it wasn’t born on the farm it was tested and diagnosed on,” he said.
The most recent case in 2011 occurred in an animal born in 2004 before the imposition of strict controls on livestock feed to exclude meat and bone by-products potentially contaminated with BSE.
Bruce County cattle farmer Steve Eby said there is some reassurance in the fact continuing surveillance for BSE picked up the new case and excluded it from the food supply. The discovery is “disappointing” but not necessarily surprising, said Eby who is also a Beef Farmers of Ontario director.
“Given the fact we had BSE in ’03, we’ve been told all along that there could be some lingering cases come upon us,” Eby said. He was referring to the original discovery in 2003 of BSE in an aged Alberta cow that led to widespread restrictions on international trade in Canadian beef and livestock.
Likewise, Owen Sound-area cow-calf operator Rob Lipsett expects little or no impact on trade. A BFO director for Grey County, he’s most concerned about the impact on Canada’s move to “negligible” disease status for BSE.
“I’m afraid that it may affect our chances of moving up a category but outside of that I don’t think it’s going to change any of the current export markets or world markets we have going now,” Lipsett said.
The recent BSE discovery comes after dramatic recovery in beef prices during 2014 as farmers consider the need to expand production based on strong prospects for trade. That’s because of a relatively low population of beef cattle in North America and the relatively low value of Canadian currency. Lipsett expects expansion among Ontario cow owners has begun mainly through modest expansion from within as current breeders retain heifers.
Both Eby and McNabb expect “business as usual” despite Thursday’s BSE announcement. Even so, Eby said it may be a factor in slow beef herd expansion.
“In the back of your mind you just have (this idea) I remember May ’03 when out of nowhere we had this major hiccup,” Eby said. “I know there’s people in the industry who think ‘OK, what’s next in that hiccup list.’”
McNabb expects flack from the usual suspects among protectionist, U.S. cattle farmers, but he played down the potential for actual trade disruption. He also dismissed a suggestion the new BSE case could affect a pending World Trade Organizaton appeal involving U.S. Country of Origin labelling law.
Country of origin labelling issues long predate BSE in Canada and WTO rulings in the case have nothing to do with disease protection, McNabb said.
“On the global stage this should not have an impact,” McNabb said. The 2011 case occurred in the youngest of 17 animals found with BSE since Canada’s modern surveillance system began. Based on the pattern of recent cases, Canadian beef exporters were expecting they could apply for “negligible” disease status as early as spring, 2016.
Asked if the current investigation could affect that timetable, McNabb said it depends on the age of the animal involved.
“If it’s younger than 2004, that could reset the clock for another 11 years,” the CCA general manager said. “If it’s older then it won’t impact that process of going after negligible risk but until we know the precise age of the animal then we’re not sure what impact, if any, it will have on our pursuit of that status.”
In fact, restrictions on the use of specified risk materials in animal feed appear to have brought under control what had been an epidemic of BSE worldwide.
“There are still some unknowns related to the specific infectious materials . . . but we do know over time that feed is the most likely route where animal proteins with infected material can circulate and amplify in the population,” McNabb said, referring to transmission of the disease among livestock.
“These measures, I think, clearly have made a huge difference globally,” he said. “We’re down to single digit numbers per year.”
“There may be some countries that decide for whatever reason to maybe suspend trade until the investigation is complete,” McNabb said. But he also predicted “long term demand for Canadian beef is going to continue to grow.” BF