Mad cow case prompts U.S. to ban Canadian meat

EDMONTON (May 20, 2003) — The United States has shut down the border to Canadian beef imports after the first case of mad cow disease in 10 years was confirmed in Edmonton earlier today.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has temporarily banned all beef imports from Canada pending further investigation, after an eight-year-old cow slated for slaughter was confirmed to contain Bovine spongiform encephalopathy — commonly referred to as mad cow disease. BSE affects the central nervous system of cattle and may possibly develop in humans when they eat meat from infected animals.

Preliminary tests at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s national centre for foreign animal disease in Winnipeg originally were unable to rule out the disease in the cow. However, a world reference library in Pirbright, United Kingdom, confirmed the presence of the disease this morning, federal Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief said in a news conference. Authorities are still trying to determine if the cow was imported or home grown.

Officials have now quarantined a northern Alberta farm and the entire cattle herd will be slaughtered, as well as any additional herds found to be at risk.

“I want to stress from the beginning this is one cow,” Vanclief said, adding the ban was to be expected. “(U.S. officials) said they might be considering this but if they did then it was necessary that we put our officials together to get all of the information and the understanding on the table so if there was a temporary ban that it would be as short as possible.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said that although risk to human health is low, the measures being taken are necessary. She said the USDA is dispatching a technical team to Canada to assist in the investigation.

Terry Johnson, owner of Picture Butte, Alta.-based TJ Transport, a 12-truck fleet that exports livestock into the U.S., told Today’s Trucking he was surprised when U.S. authorities started turning his trucks around this morning. “It has been quite catastrophic for us,” says Johnson, who has been on the phone all day explaining the situation to customers. “About 65 per cent of our business is to the U.S.” He said officials at the border informed him that “until they determine it’s safe for cattle exports, there simply will be none.”

The event is the last thing the Canadian agriculture industry needed, says Robin Walker, president of Lethbridge, Alta-based Walkers’ Transport. Walker, who admits only a small percentage of his business is based on exporting cattle to the U.S., is concerned a continuing ban “could be devastating” to an industry already suffering from a depressed livestock market and declining U.S. dollar that is cutting into profits. “It’s just been one thing after another in this industry,” says Walker, who adds the ban just gives small carriers another reason to stay away from cross-border hauls. “It would have been nice to see some light for a change.”

Alberta is Canada’s largest beef producer and beef is the province’s top agricultural export.

— with files from CP

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