Mad cow disease confirmed in Alberta; first Canadian case since 2011

ABOVE: The first case of mad cow disease in Canada since 2011 has been reported in northern Alberta. Vassy Kapelos has the details.

CALGARY – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed on Friday that a case of mad cow disease has been found in a beef cow in Alberta.

Mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), is a progressive, fatal neurological disease in cattle. Canada’s last confirmed BSE case was reported in 2011.

The CFIA says this latest case was detected through the national BSE surveillance program, and that no part of the animal’s carcass entered the human food or animal feed systems.

READ MORE: What is mad cow disease? Quick facts about BSE

The government agency launched an investigation immediately upon confirming the disease, and says it is working closely with provincial and industry partners.

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As part of the investigation, the CFIA is seeking to confirm the age of the animal, its history and how it became infected. The investigation will focus in on the feed supplied to this animal during the first year of its life.

“The Government of Canada is committed to protecting human and animal health and takes the management of BSE very seriously,” said the CFIA in a statement.

The agency will also trace out all animals of equivalent risk. Equivalent risk animals will be ordered destroyed and tested for BSE.

According to the CFIA, this case should not affect current exports of Canadian cattle or beef, a sentiment echoed by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

READ MORE: Timeline of Canada’s 2003 mad cow disease crisis

“We don’t really expect it to have much of an impact in terms of our trade access, like it did 12 years ago. The world has moved on,” said John Masswohl. “We know so much more now about how to detect BSE, how to prevent it, how to control it… and our trading partners really have a lot more confidence in that.”

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“We’re never happy when this happens, but it has been an awfully long time since we had one,” he added. “We have expected to have one or two [cases] pop up every now and then.”

Canada remains a “controlled BSE risk” country, as recognized by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

“We’ve had that status I believe since 2008,” says Masswohl. “We don’t expect that would change.”

“They take the ‘risky’ parts of the animals and remove them, they’re not allowed in the food system.”

The federal agriculture minister was also quick to confirm he didn’t believe the discovery would affect Canada’s international beef trade.

“We have a very fulsome testing procedure. We don’t change from our controlled risk status … so we don’t see this interfering with any of our trade corridors at this time,” said Gerry Ritz.

Canada works under international protocols that allow for up to a dozen cases a year of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, Ritz said. “We have stayed well below that.”

Canadian Food Inspection Agency staff have been at the farm since Thursday.

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– With files from The Canadian Press

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