One day after the U.S. Agriculture Department announced that concern over mad cow disease should no longer keep the border closed to live cattle from Canada, the Ottawa government revealed yesterday that it has detected another suspected case in a dairy cow.
Canadian officials said two preliminary tests on the 10-year-old Alberta animal were positive for the disease, but that it will take several days to complete a definitive third test. Canada's food safety agency said that no parts of the animal had entered the food supply.
_____Mad Cow Disease_____
U.S. to Reopen Border for Import of Some Canadian Cattle (The Washington Post, Dec 30, 2004)
USDA Rules Out Mad Cow Disease in Animal (The Washington Post, Nov 24, 2004)
Japan to Accept U.S. Beef Again (The Washington Post, Oct 24, 2004)
Keeping Mad Cow Out of Cosmetics (The Washington Post, Oct 19, 2004)
Blood Transfusion Linked to 2nd Human Case of Mad Cow (The Washington Post, Aug 6, 2004)
While the timing of the announcement raised some suspicions that Canadian officials had waited to report the findings until after the USDA announced its support for reopening the border to cattle imports, Agriculture Department officials said the two developments were unrelated.
"As unfortunate as the timing may seem, it is purely coincidence," said Ron DeHaven, the department's chief veterinarian. He also said the Agriculture Department will still push for reopening the border even if the animal turns out to be infected with the brain-wasting disease.
"In making our decision about live cattle from Canada, we took into account the possibility that other cases would be found," DeHaven said. "If this animal does test positive, then Canada will still be a minimal-risk region [for the disease] under international standards."
In its announcement Wednesday that it intends to reopen the border to live cattle in March, the Agriculture Department said it did so because Canada meets the World Organization for Animal Health's definition of a "minimal-risk" region. DeHaven said that under the international organization's guidelines, Canada could have as many as 10 cases of mad cow disease in adult cattle over a seven-year period and still be considered a minimal risk zone.
The first North American cow infected with the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was found in Canada 20 months ago, and a second animal was discovered in Washington state late in 2003. That animal had been raised in Canada.
Soon after the first infected Canadian animal was detected, the United States stopped imports of most beef products, and all live cattle, across the northern border. The rules have been gradually relaxed as time has passed without new cases, but the Canadian government and many large American and Canadian beef concerns have exerted strong pressure to reopen the live cattle trade.
In announcing its plans, the Agriculture Department said that, as a precaution, only animals younger than 30 months would be allowed in for sale to American consumers. But the American Meat Institute, which represents meat and poultry companies, filed suit yesterday in federal court here to have the rule extended to animals older than 30 months.
Mark Dopp, the institute's general counsel, called the partial ban "scientifically unsupportable."
"Calling Canadian beef unsafe is like calling your twin sister ugly," Dopp said. "The U.S. and Canada both have implemented state-of-the-art meat inspection and animal-disease-prevention systems. As we look across the borders, we see near-mirror images of one another."