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  • Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
    By Canadian Food Inspection Agency - Animal Products, Animal Health and Production Division

    What is BSE?

    BSE or "Mad Cow Disease" is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of cattle. It is what is known as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other TSEs include scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and Creutzfelt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. Although the exact cause of BSE is unknown, it is associated with the presence of an abnormal protein called a prion. There is no treatment or vaccine currently available for the disease.

    Why does BSE have such a high profile?

    British scientists have suggested that a newly recognized form of CJD, known as variant Creutzfelt-Jakob disease (vCJD), found in Britain in recent years, may be caused by human exposure to BSE People afflicted with this strain of the disease tend to be from a younger portion of the population than those with classical CJD. BSE has gained a high profile as a result.

    Do we have BSE in Canada?

    There have only been two cases of BSE ever diagnosed in this country. The first case was found in 1993 in a beef cow that had been imported from Britain in 1987. The animal carcass and the herd it came from were destroyed and additional measures were taken immediately by the federal government to deal with any risk that Canadian cattle might have been affected. The second case in one beef cow was reported May 20, 2003. Immediate disease control measures have been put in place, including depopulation of the affected herd once the necessary samples are obtained for the purposes of the ongoing investigation. BSE has been a reportable disease in Canada since 1990.

    Symptoms/Signs of BSE

    BSE is an unusual disease in that the time between an animal's exposure to the disease and the onset of clinical signs ranges from three to six years.

    Animals with BSE may show a number of different symptoms including nervous or aggressive behavior, abnormal posture, lack of co-ordination or difficulty in rising from a lying position, decreased milk production, and weight loss despite an increased appetite. These symptoms may last for a period of two to six months before the animal dies.

    Transmission of BSE

    Scientists believe that the BSE epidemic in Great Britain was caused by feeding ruminant (cattle, sheep, goats, deer, elk, bison) protein products to cattle. This occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was then magnified by the practice of feeding rendered material from slaughtered cattle to other cattle. The protein that is linked to BSE is resistant to normal inactivation procedures such as heat, which means that it may not be destroyed in the rendering process and could remain active in rendered material. In 1988, Great Britain banned the use of this rendered material in animal feeds, thus removing potentially contaminated material from the food chain. As a result, since the winter of 1992-93, the number of BSE cases reported in Great Britain has been progressively dropping. In addition, other possible methods of transmission are still being scientifically investigated.

    Diagnosis of BSE

    There is no test to diagnose BSE in live animals, although a tentative diagnosis may be made based on clinical signs. Diagnosis can only be confirmed by microscopic examination of the animal's brain after its death.

    What is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) doing to prevent BSE from entering and becoming established in Canada?

    Canada, as well as many other countries, has taken precautions to prevent the introduction and spread of BSE. These measures include the following:

    – The creation of a surveillance program in which the brains of cattle are tested for the disease.

    – Since 1997, Canada has banned the feeding of rendered protein products from ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats, bison, elk or deer) to other ruminants.

    – Making BSE a reportable disease, such that any suspect case of BSE must be reported to a federal veterinarian.

    – The creation of a Canadian Cattle Identification Program for cattle and bison, making it possible to trace individual animal movements from the herd of origin to slaughter.

    – Controlling the importation of products that are assessed to have a high risk of introducing BSE into Canada. Canada only allows the importation of live ruminants and their meat and meat products from countries that Canada considers to be free of BSE. Canada also has additional import controls for animal products and by-products from countries that have confirmed BSE in native animals. Their animal products are assessed on a case-by-case basis and may be permitted entry if they are judged not to present a risk of introducing BSE.

    – Canada has not imported ruminant-derived meat and bone meal for the purpose of livestock feeding from Europe for more than a decade. In December 2000, the CFIA suspended the importation of rendered animal material of any species from any country that Canada did not recognize as free of BSE.

    It is important to note that the reported BSE-free status of a country may not accurately reflect the risk of importing meat or meat products from that country, for several reasons. First, the long period of time between an animal's infection with BSE and the appearance of clinical signs may mean that a report of BSE may occur after new controls have been put in place. Also, the disease may not be accurately reported in all countries, thus making it difficult to assess the risk of importing products from those countries. Canada is continually assessing international scientific information as it becomes available and modifying policies as required, based on new information.

    What can beef and dairy producers do?

    If you notice an animal showing any of the symptoms of BSE, contact your veterinarian, or notify the local CFIA district office, which is listed in the blue government pages of the phone book.

    Check your feedbags carefully for the label "Do not feed to cattle, sheep, deer or other ruminants." Such feed contains materials prohibited for ruminants.

    If you mix feed on your farm, make sure that you do not mix feeds for non-ruminants (such as horses, swine, poultry, etc.) with any feed for ruminants.

    If you have both ruminants and non-ruminants on your farm, or if you mix your own feeds on your farm, keep all invoices for feeds.

    For more information contact the CFIA's Media Relations office at (613) 228-6682, visit the CFIA's Web site or Health Canada's Web site:

    Information on BSE and Links

    On May 20, 2003 The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced a confirmed case of Bovine Spongiform Enchphalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease, in a single cow located on an Alberta Farm.

    The BSE information on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture & Food (OMAF) web site has been updated. It will continue to be updated regularly over the next little while. A hot button has been added to our main pages and livestock page.

    OMAF Web Site information includes:

    – Canadian Food Inspection Agency BSE Information (scroll to the bottom for list of topics)

    – United States Department of Agriculture: BSE

    – List of Affected Canadian Imports, United States Department of Agriculture

    – Information on Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vJCD) - human form of Mad Cow disease, May 2003, Health Canada

    – Canadian Cattlemen's Association

    – Alberta Beef Producers

    – Office international des epizoties (World Organization for Animal Health)

    – Canadian Beef Export Federation

    – The BSE Inquiry, United Kingdom

    – BSE Disease Investigation in Alberta, Press Release May 20, 2003, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

    – History of the BSE and discussion of impacts

    – Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) of Deer and Elk, December 2002, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

    – Border Wait Times

    Contact Information:

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is the lead agency for Canada and has the legislative authority to prevent the entry of BSE and detect, report or control any potential occurrence of the disease. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency can be reached at 1-800-454-8408 (public) or 613-228-6682 (media).

    Additional technical information and key messages prepared by the CFIA are available on their website at:



    Health Canada has added information regarding this issue to their website which can be accessed at


    Ontario Urges Ottawa To End Farmers' Uncertainty

    Helen Johns, Minister of Agriculture and Food and the Eves government is calling on the federal government to help reduce the uncertainty Ontario's grain and oilseed producers are facing by agreeing to extend the Market Revenue Insurance (MRI) program for 2003.

    Johns explained that this program is extremely important to Ontario's grain and oilseed producers. With producers busy planting their 2003 crops, they need to know what coverage they will receive. Ontario is urging the federal minister to extend the MRI program for 2003 at the 90 per cent coverage level.

    Part of the package of safety net programs, MRI is designed to provide some measure of stability to producers of grains and oilseeds when market prices fall below a support price. The government of Ontario successfully negotiated with the federal government to extend this highly-valued program for 2002.

    Ontario has done its part to help level the playing field for Ontario's farmers by boosting the level of support available through the 2002 MRI program to 90 per cent, from 85 per cent. Ontario grain and oilseed producers need to know that the federal government will support them as well.

    Johns noted that the federal government's reluctance to extend existing companion programs is a tactic designed to pressure the province to sign a bilateral implementation agreement under the Agricultural Policy Framework. The minister has stated that Ontario will not sign such an agreement until the province's farm leaders are satisfied that the proposed Business Risk Management programs will effectively meet their needs.

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