Guest editorial by Ian Giebelhaus DVM, BScAg
Rimbey Vet Clinic
On Dec. 2, 2015 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released their final report on the investigation into the 19th case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada, discovered in Feb. 2015. Case # 19 was born on the same birth farm as case # 17.
The animal in case # 19 was born in Mar. 2009, while Case # 17 was discovered in 2010. Case # 19 is unique in that it was born and infected after the enhanced feed ban of 2007 was in place. What does this mean?
The extensive investigation looked at any feed mill that was involved in producing commercial feed fed on this farm. Fortunately no lapses in protocols that could have allowed contamination of cattle feed were found. This is very good news. While no absolute “smoking gun” was found, the most likely cause of this latest BSE case is that the cow consumed a minute particle of leftover feed from prior to the feed ban/enhanced feed ban that was still in a feed storage bin. Scientists believe that as little one-fifth of a gram (i.e. a garden pea cut into 15 pieces) of prion contaminated feed is enough to infect a calf. It is very easy to imagine tiny grains of feed or dust can remain in a feed bin long after that feed is gone.
What does this mean for the Canadian/Alberta cattle industry? We know the feed ban/enhanced feed ban of 2007 means that no amplification or magnification of the disease can happen in Canada like it did in the UK. That means that if we keep doing what we are doing, eventually classical BSE will no longer exist in Canada.
One of the things that we need to keep doing is testing appropriate cattle for BSE. Most if not all beef and dairy producers are familiar with the Canada Alberta BSE Sampling Program (CABSESP). This is primarily the on-farm testing of dead, down, diseased or distressed cattle by a producer’s herd veterinarian. Unfortunately the number of animals being testing over the last few years in Alberta has dropped to a level where we are no longer meeting our testing requirements. This potentially puts our export trade of beef at risk. If our beef industry loses valuable overseas markets because we are perceived to have “dropped the ball” and are not actively testing it has the potential to be financially devastating.
What can our beef industry do to help? On farm BSE testing programs like the CABSESP will be needed for decades! We will need to continue to test for the long term to maintain the confidence of our export markets and consumers. The industry needs your help.
BSE testing numbers need to increase in Alberta. This is not the time to “let someone else contribute”, everyone needs to take ownership and help. It is estimated that if each beef and dairy farm in Alberta had one appropriate test done per year we would surpass our targets. It is a very easy program to participate in and help your industry.
Please call your local veterinary clinic, they will be able to answer your questions. Help keep the Canadian/ Alberta beef industry strong.