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From: TSS (
Subject: Comprehensive testing program needed for BSE CANADA
Date: August 30, 2004 at 11:48 am PST

The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia) | By Margret Kopala | August 30, 2004

Comprehensive testing program needed for BSE

The Alberta-based Canadian Cattlemen for Fair Trade recently filed a claim
for $150 million with the government of the United States for losses from
the mad-cow crisis. Under NAFTA's Chapter 11 investment provisions, it says
the U.S. has "unjustifiably provided less favourable treatment" to Canadian
beef producers.

Trade experts say winning its case is possible but this -- along with
initiatives to create independent meat-packing operations for processing
cattle whose numbers are swelling in their millions at the Canada-U.S.
border -- is a stark reminder of the absence of progress in resolving a
crisis that's had Canadian cattle producers on their knees since May 2003.
Or, should I say it's a reminder of the absence of any progress in
eliminating or even determining the extent of mad-cow disease in Canada,
because certainly enormous sums of money and effort are supporting an
industry severely affected by it.

The answer is blanket testing for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy),
the always fatal brain-wasting disease that produces symptoms in
30-month-old cattle and can be transmitted to humans where, after long
incubation, it appears as variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease.

Organizations such as the Alberta Cattle Feeders have demanded this blanket
testing, but when Cattleland Feedlot in Strathmore, Alta., wanted to test
its own cattle, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said only it does BSE
testing and only it can issue export permits.

The Canadian Health Coalition also wants more testing and expressed outrage
earlier this year at the federal government's rejection of advice from its
own experts to test 65,000 cattle over a one-year period to ensure BSE is
not widespread in Canada. Instead, the government plans to test 8,000 cattle
this year, the minimum required by the World Organization for Animal Health
to maintain surveillance obligations, increasing to 30,000 over the next
five years.

"Their policy is: You don't test, you don't find," said the coalition's
Michael McBane. "Every other country that increased testing found
significantly more [infected] cows. They keep saying it's an isolated case.
How would we know? We're not testing enough to find out."

And now, thanks to a $70-per-head charge by renderers collecting dead stock
and farmers' reluctance to take their "downed, diseased, dead or distressed
cattle" to testing labs, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is behind in
meeting even its reduced surveillance obligations.

Delivering his report earlier this month, Alberta Auditor-General Fred Dunn
said that, although the OIE can't penalize Canada for failing to test
sufficient numbers of animals, it can drop its designation from minimal BSE
risk to moderate risk. If that happens, decisions about border openings move
to the World Trade Organization where they will languish interminably.

What Dunn didn't say is that failing to test means Canada won't have a
competent assessment of the risk to consumers. This is urgent, as science is
rapidly catching up with the reality of BSE.

British microbiologist Stephen Dealler, who monitored the BSE crisis in
Britain, says the large amount of research that has taken place demonstrates
several things should now be taken as accepted.

He argues there's a major problem in the tendency to assume that cattle with
no symptoms are not infected. BSE infects cattle particularly when young, he
says, even the first few months of life, though the level of infectivity is
much lower and harder to detect before symptoms appear. And like Donald
Berry, a biostatistician at the University of Texas who estimates that
Canada and the U.S. slaughter 1,750 infected cattle every year, Dealler
believes that, for every BSE animal with symptoms, probably a further six or
seven with no symptoms have been eaten. Most importantly, he says that
farmers will avoid tests that cost them money and that may cause them to
lose money if the test is found to be positive.

Canada can't know the extent of its BSE problem until comprehensive testing
takes place. For cattle producers, negative tests create a competitive
advantage while positive tests compel a remedy. But failing to test at all
is a betrayal of the very science we invoke to say our animals are healthy.

Never mind animal rights, this approach puts a ticking time bomb in humans.


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