Even After 2 New BSE Cases This Year, Canada Decreases Testing by 28%; Disease Likely Still Present in Herd, but not Being Detected
(Billings, Mont.) – Despite the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) found in four Canadian cattle in the past two years – two of those cases being announced in January – the number of Canadian cattle being tested for BSE per month has substantially decreased, making it impossible to monitor the effectiveness of Canada’s BSE risk-mitigation measures.
“Reports by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) show that Canada tested 7,088 cattle for BSE during December 2004, while the average number tested per month for January, February and March totaled only 5,258 cattle per month – a 28 percent drop,” noted Leo McDonnell, R-CALF USA president and co-founder. “At this slow rate of testing, even a relatively large BSE problem may remain hidden for many months or years.”
Canada has maintained that if it tested 30,000 cattle per year, it would be able to detect one BSE case in a million, but Canada has not yet tested this many cattle per year, and yet four cases have been detected under far less testing. This suggests a BSE prevalence rate significantly higher than 1 per million.
“Statistically, the detection sensitivity of a testing program is driven by the number of cattle tested per month, not the size of the herd,” said nationally renowned disease risk-assessment expert Louis Anthony Cox Jr., Ph.D., of Cox Associates in Denver, Colo. “Canada would have to double its testing rate, then double it again, then double it yet a third time to reach parity with the U.S. in the level of scrutiny being given to cattle to protect consumers and the cattle industry against BSE.
“Just as the accuracy of a political poll depends only on the number of people interviewed rather than on the total number of voters, so the accuracy with which the prevalence rate of BSE-positive tests among inspected cattle can be determined depends only on the number of cattle tested, rather than on the total size of the herds,” explained Cox. “In both cases, what matters is just the proportion of the respondents that indicate a certain result.
“Canada’s BSE test results to date suggest a possible true BSE prevalence rate greater than about 5.5 case per million head of cattle, which is the same order of magnitude as the BSE incidence rate found in countries considered to have a serious BSE problem, such as France and Germany,” Cox continued. “Moreover, unlike those countries, there is no historical trend in BSE testing results in Canada to indicate that the rate of BSE infection in the Canadian herd is decreasing.”
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) will not allow countries with a BSE prevalence rate of two cases per million head of native cattle to be classified as ‘minimal BSE risk.’
“Even if a country met all of the other OIE criteria for ‘minimal BSE risk’ status – which Canada does not – a country must also have found its BSE prevalence rate to be less than two cases per million head during each of the last four consecutive 12-month periods to qualify as a ‘minimal BSE risk,’” Bullard pointed out.
In contrast, the United States continues to test at the rate of over 45,000 cattle per month, but has never detected BSE in its domestic herd. Additionally, the U.S. already has exceeded its plans to test 268,500 domestic high-risk cattle – those animals judged most likely to exhibit BSE if the disease were present.
As of April 8, 2005, the U.S. had tested more than 305,000 of the 446,000 cattle targeted for testing, with no cases of BSE detected. At Canada’s recently reduced rate of testing, it would take approximately 51 months (268,500/5258) to achieve the same level of inspection (number of cattle tested) that the U.S. achieved in the first quarter of 2005, according to Cox.
“All other BSE-affected countries – following initial detection of BSE in their native herds – immediately begin a mandatory testing program that includes testing all high-risk cattle over the age at which tests results are meaningful, and/or cattle subject to normal slaughter,” McDonnell said. “Canada’s testing program cannot provide a science-based estimate of its BSE prevalence rate, and it follows none of the crucial protocols established by other BSE-affected countries.”
As a result of these inadequate policies – along with multiple discoveries of BSE – it’s very likely that additional BSE-positive cattle exist in the Canadian herd but aren’t being detected, and Canada’s decision to reduce BSE testing after the two most recent cases could indicate that adequate testing may not be forthcoming.
The table below compares Canada’s testing program to those of other BSE-affected countries reporting fewer than 30 cases of BSE since 2003. It illustrates the inadequacy of Canada’s surveillance program and the testing gap between Canada and other countries. The chart also reveals both the inadequacy of Canada’s testing program when compared to international BSE surveillance practices as well as the inappropriateness of estimating Canada’s BSE incidence rate based on Canada’s adult cattle population. Canada’s testing data is simply insufficient to accurately estimate Canada’s BSE prevalence, but the data that is available when contrasted with other countries that have tested far more cattle, suggests that Canada’s BSE prevalence cannot be characterized as low. This deficiency is particularly obvious when comparing the number of BSE tests conducted as a percentage of each country’s adult cattle population.
Adult Cattle Population
High-Risk Cattle Tested Per Year
Cattle Subject to Normal Slaughter Tested
Total Cattle Tested Per Year
No. of BSE Cases Reported Since 2003
See Note 18
See Note 18
“R-CALF recommends that Canada begin testing hundreds of thousands of cattle on an annual basis – rather than the mere tens of thousands Canada is proposing – as the only means by which Canada can conclude that its prevalence rate is not as high as those of countries considered to have a serious BSE problem,” Bullard said. “Until – and unless – Canada begins a statistically meaningful BSE surveillance program, every country will lack crucial scientific data needed to assess the risk of accepting beef and cattle from Canada.”
Note: To view the complete report titled “Inadequacy of Canada’s BSE Surveillance Program,” log on to: www.r-calfusa.com and click “BSE-Litigation.”
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on domestic and international trade and marketing issues. R-CALF USA, a national, non-profit organization, is dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA’s membership consists primarily of cow-calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and feedlot owners. Its members – over 14,500 strong – are located in 46 states, and the organization has over 60 local and state association affiliates, from both cattle and farm organizations. Various main street businesses are associate members of R-CALF USA. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.