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Our 'don't test, don't know' policy on BSE must change PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Saturday, 21 August 2004 11:05
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.

Margret Kopala
The Ottawa Citizen
August 21, 2004

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 (OIE) 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.

His website editorial o­n important data concerning BSE in the United
States notes 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, Mr. 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. This means that it is essential to
introduce compensatory mechanisms.

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. Worse, it is negligent and suggests we don't care
whether our animals are infected because, after all, we remove certain
risk materials from the human food chain.

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

Margret Kopala's column o­n western perspectives appears weekly.
? The Ottawa Citizen 2004



Last Updated on Saturday, 21 August 2004 11:05
 

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