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December 17, 2021

Atypical BSE find a sign the system is working

Today, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified the World Organisation for Animal Health of a case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Canada’s beef industry takes BSE surveillance extremely seriously and although unfortunate, this discovery demonstrates the robust nature of the National BSE Surveillance Program we have in place.

“The quick discovery of this atypical case proves how effective the Canada and Alberta BSE Surveillance Program is and how dedicated our producers are to eliminating BSE in Canada’s cattle herd,” said Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development Nate Horner, in a statement.

The detection of an atypical BSE case will not impact Canada’s negligible risk status, and market access for Canadian animals and beef products should be unaffected.

“The detection of this atypical case is Canada’s first case of BSE in more than six years, which we owe to our cattle producers’ vigilance and the success of surveillance and control measures we’ve implemented across the country over the past 20 years,” said Horner.

No part of the animal’s carcass entered the human food or animal feed systems.

Atypical BSE

Atypical BSE happens sporadically in cattle populations, and there is no evidence to suggest this form is transmissible.

Classical vs atypical BSE (OIE)

“Atypical BSE spontaneously happens at a rate of about one in one million cattle regardless of how well a producer takes care of their herd,” said Horner. “It has been reported six times in the U.S., most recently in 2018, as well as a few other countries.”

In Canada, the last atypical BSE case was found in 2007.

Negligible risk status

As of May 2021, the OIE recognized Canada as negligible risk for BSE.

This change will facilitate expanded access to foreign markets for various beef products currently limited by BSE era restrictions. To achieve negligible risk, a country must demonstrate the last case of classical BSE was born more than 11 years ago and effective control measures and surveillance systems are in place.

Reopening doors of opportunity

The last BSE case reported in Canada was in 2015.

Next steps

The CFIA will continue to lead the response into this case, with support from the Alberta government, and the beef industry in the province, where necessary.

In addition, the beef industry will meet with both CFIA and the Government of Alberta, according to Horner.

“On Dec. 20, Alberta government and CFIA officials will meet with stakeholders from across the province’s cattle industry to answer questions and reassure them that all levels of government are working together on this case.”

Continued surveillance crucial

Producers are encouraged to submit eligible cattle for sampling. Any animal older than 30 months of age that fits into one of the categories of dead, down, dying or diseased is a potential candidate for testing. The National BSE Surveillance Program provides reimbursement for eligible samples to the producer for assisting in disposal costs and/or to a private veterinarian, if involved.

In 2020, over 22,000 samples were submitted to the nationwide surveillance program, down from over 30,000 samples in 2019.

For more information on BSE Surveillance, read the Government of Alberta’s Canada and Alberta BSE Surveillance Program.

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