Latest Canadian mad cow case poses no threat

The recently confirmed case of mad cow disease in Canada is an isolated case and does not represent a threat to the food chain, according to the Pan American Health Organization’s top expert on the issue.

“The mad cow case has been confirmed,” said Dr. Albino Belotto, chief of PAHO’s Veterinary Public Health Unit. “But the situation is well under control and there is no chance that it has contaminated the human or animal food supply chains.”

Canada revealed on January 2 that an 8-year-old dairy cow had tested positive for the brain-wasting illness, confirming preliminary test results released on Dec. 30, 2004. According to Canadian Agriculture Minister Andrew Mitchell, no part of the animal entered the human food or animal feed systems.

Belotto explained that the cow from Alberta was born before a 1997 feed ban that outlawed the use of all proteins, including meat and bone meals, and any other material from ruminants (such as cattle, sheep and goats) to feed such animals. The feed ban has since been expanded to exclude more material.

Belotto says the U.S. decision to renew Canadian cattle imports despite this latest mad cow case “is evidence that the United States considers it an isolated case that does not increase the risks.”

It was the second known case of a Canadian cow developing mad cow disease in less than two years. The first case, also in Alberta, was in May of 2003.

BSE is a chronic, degenerative disorder affecting the central nervous system of cattle. It is usually transmitted to cows via contaminated feed and has an incubation period in animals of four to six years. Since it was first diagnosed in Great Britain in 1986, there have been more than 180,000 cases.

PAHO began promoting prevention and control of the disease shortly after its initial appearance. The organization’s work in this area includes:

  • Dissemination of technical information and guides on adoption of policies formulated by international organizations and government institutions.

  • Technical cooperation with member countries to help organize epidemiological surveillance of BSE.

  • Development of a network of laboratories to optimize surveillance systems.

  • Development of shared methodologies among countries for confronting any detected risk.

  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, past risk analyses have determined that the region is free of BSE.

South America has an estimated 290 million head of cattle, representing approximately 10 percent of the world’s bovine population. The English-speaking Caribbean, however, is a net importer of beef and other animal products. For this reason, it is important to maintain surveillance systems to detect any signs of the disease. The introduction of BSE would also raise the threat of commercial embargoes.

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