Mad cow again! Action needed now

Mad cow again! Action needed now
New feed rules must be at top of Harper’s list

Paula Simons
The Edmonton Journal

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Editor’s note: This is written as an open letter to Canada’s new prime minister, Stephen Harper

Dear Stephen,

I know you were busy Monday, winning an election and all. But there’s an important matter I want to bring to your prime ministerial attention. If you want to do Alberta beef producers and Alberta beef consumers a big favour, start by putting a comprehensive mad cow prevention policy at the top of your national “to do” list.

On Monday, while Canadians went to the polls, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced another cow had tested positive for BSE: bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Our latest mad cow was a 69-month-old breeding heifer, a Holstein-Hereford cross, from somewhere in north-central Alberta. That’s the fifth infected Canadian-born cow that’s turned up, and the fifth born and raised in this general area.

Given how many, many more cattle we test for BSE these days, it was only to be expected that we would find a few more sick animals. Back before we found our first mad cow in June of 2003, Alberta was only testing 150 to 200 specimens a year. Last year, Canada tested 57,766 cattle. Of those 30,536, or 53 per cent, were from Alberta. All were high-risk animals from the so-called 4D group: dead, distressed, diseased or downers.

With that massive increase in surveillance, finding one more positive sample should be no surprise. Indeed, it would scarcely be cause for alarm.

There’s just one problem.

This particular cow was only six years old. She was born in April 2000, three years after Canada instituted the feed ban that was supposed to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. That ban completely forbade the use of rendered cows, sheep, elk and other ruminants in cattle feed. The leading scientific thinking on BSE says that’s how cows get prion disease — by eating rendered protein from infected animals.

All the other sick cows we’ve found were either born before the ban or just after it came into effect.

So how did this heifer get infected? So far, no one knows.

It’s a troubling question — with even more troubling answers.

Are we to believe some farmer had contaminated three-year-old feed left over and that he fed it to his stock in defiance or ignorance of the law?

Or perhaps our existing national feed ban isn’t stringent enough.


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