Canada’s BSE negligible risk status to help beef farmers access more export markets

CANADA – The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has confirmed Canada’s successful application for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) negligible risk status.

BSE is a disease of the nervous system of cattle, which has a long incubation period between two and eight years, and occasionally longer.

It is one of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE), or prion diseases, characterised by the accumulation in nervous tissue of an abnormal infectious protein called a prion.

The “negligible” risk status is the lowest risk status established by the OIE. Others are “controlled”, or “undetermined”.

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Canada’s BSE history dates back to 2003,  when the first case was detected, resulting in widespread market closures for Canada’s beef and live cattle.

This had a significant negative impact on the Canadian cattle industry as Canada exports over 40 percent of its beef production.

The Canadian cattle industry estimates that BSE resulted in direct losses of CAD 4.9-5.5 billion from 2003 to 2006, along with numerous cattle producers exiting the industry in ensuing years.

Additionally, over two million acres of Canadian pasture lands were converted to other uses along with this exodus of cattle producers, according to Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Much of that economic pain was felt in Alberta, the country’s top beef-producing province.

“In Alberta, it was bad. It kind of hit us right between the eyes,” said Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Since 2007, Canada has been recognized as a controlled risk status country by the OIE and has been working towards regaining lost market access.

Another BSE detection in 2015, from an animal born in 2009, impeded these efforts, taking Canadian officials back to the drawing board.

Officials at the USDA note that while Canada has regained full beef access in certain markets, the recent negligible risk status recognition may help Canada regain access to markets that have previously limited imports of Canadian beef due to BSE concerns.

Its new BSE status could for instance allow Canada to make export gains in markets such as China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Canada could also now have an opportunity to export bone meal and other rendered products to the U.S., Mexico, and Vietnam.

In addition to helping to open some of those markets, OIE’s elevation to “negligible” risk status effectively closes the book on a 13-year chapter of Canadian agricultural history.

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