BSE testing numbers need to increase in Alberta

On Dec. 2, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) released their final report into the 19th case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Dear Editor,

On December 2, 2015 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) released their final report on the investigation into the19th case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada, discovered in Feb. 2015. Case #19 was born on the samebirth farm as case #17. The animal in case # 19 was born in March of 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 minuteparticle of left over feed from prior to the feed ban/enhanced feed ban that was still in a feed storage bin. Scientists believethat as little 1/5 of a gram (ie a garden pea cut into 15 pieces) of prion contaminated feed is enough to infect a calf. It isvery 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 meansthat no amplification or magnification of the disease can happen in Canada like it did in the UK. That means that if we keepdoing what we are doing, eventually Classical BSE will no longer exist in Canada. One of the things that we NEED to keepdoing 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 isprimarily the on-farm testing of dead, down, diseased or distressed cattle by a producers herd veterinarian. Unfortunatelythe number of animals being testing over the last few years in Alberta has dropped to a level where we are no longermeeting our testing requirements. This potentially puts our export trade of beef at risk. If our beef industry loses valuableoverseas markets because we are perceived to have “dropped the ball” and are not actively testing it has the potential to befinancially devastating.

What can our beef industry do to help? On farm BSE testing programs like the CABSESP will be needed for decades! We willneed to continue to test for the long term to maintain the confidence of our export markets and consumers. The industryNEEDS your help.

BSE testing numbers need to increase in Alberta. This is not the time to “let someone else contribute”, everyone needs totake ownership and help. It is estimated that if each beef and dairy farm in Alberta had one appropriate test done per yearwe would surpass our targets. It is a very easy program to participate in and help your industry. Please call your localveterinary clinic, they will be able to answer your questions. Help keep the Canadian/ Alberta beef industry strong.

Ian Giebelhaus,

DVM BScAg : Alberta Agriculture BSE private Veterinary contractor