CALGARY, Alta. — The re-opening of the U.S. border to Canadian cattle may be in jeopardy, following the latest confirmed case of BSE in Alberta.
A third case of mad cow disease surfaced in Canada this week, but this case has prompted more alarm than another recent case discovered over the holidays. That’s because the most recent BSE-infected cow was less than seven years old, meaning it was born after the Canadian ban on ruminant feed which was intended at stopping the spread of the disease.
The U.S.-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has been supportive of the re-opening of the U.S. border to live Canadian cattle ever since it was closed in May, 2003. Now, that influential organization is having second thoughts.
“Based on this information, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration should determine how to proceed,” NCBA president Jan Lyons said yesterday. “Once the questions concerning Canada’s compliance with its BSE firewalls have been adequately answered, NCBA members will consider their position on the Canadian rule and efforts to re-open the border.”
“We are very, very concerned with the age of this animal and compliance with the feed ban,” added NCBA spokesperson, Karen Batra. “Our position on re-opening the border – we’ve got some concerns on that.”
As recently as Jan. 2, the NCBA was fully supportive of its government re-opening the U.S. border to Canadian cattle, despite the fact an older Canadian cow had recently been confirmed to have BSE.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is sending a technical team to Canada to examine its practices and procedures. American beef remains banned in some Asian countries because of its own BSE problems and some industry groups are concerned that allowing Canadian cattle into the country could prolong those bans.
Canadian officials were quick to react to the latest confirmed case of BSE.
“This is not unexpected,” said Agriculture Minister, Andy Mitchell. “Although this animal was born after the feed ban was put in place (in 1997) preliminary information indicates the likely source is contaminated feed and this will be the focus of our investigations.”
While in Calgary yesterday, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein appealed to ranchers to stop using old feed that was banned under the 1997 regulations. It’s not likely that any contaminated feed still exists, but it’s possible some ranchers continued using up their existing feed following the 1997 ban. Alberta officials said the number of BSE cases should diminish as older animals die or are culled from herds. It remains to be seen whether that’s enough to satisfy U.S. officials or whether this latest case will delay the re-opening of the U.S. border to live Canadian cattle.
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