- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency decided against using
a DNA test on contaminated cattle feed that one expert says would have
allowed it to determine if the feed contained banned cattle parts, The
Vancouver Sun has learned.
- On Thursday, The Sun reported that a series of secret
CFIA tests on vegetable-based cattle feed and feed ingredients found that
41 of the 70 samples (59 per cent) contained "undeclared animal materials."
- The CFIA has stressed that those tests -- conducted by
looking at feed samples under a microscope -- do not allow it to determine
whether cattle remains were fed to other cattle, the primary method in
which mad-cow disease is spread.
- "In the absence of real identifiable materials like
feathers and hairs, [scientists are] left looking at bone fragments and
pieces of muscle tissue, and those are virtually impossible to determine
what species they might come from," Sergio Tolusso, the CFIA's feed
program coordinator, told The Sun in an interview earlier this week.
- However, Michael Hansen, an expert on mad-cow disease
with the U.S.-based Consumers Union, the independent research institute
that publishes Consumer Reports, said Thursday that there are DNA tests
available that can determine what type of animal a piece of tissue comes
- In an interview Thursday, Tolusso said the CFIA was aware
of the DNA tests, but decided not to use them.
- "We knew that these tests were out there and we
also knew that they, too, had their limitations," said Tolusso.
- One of those limitations, said Tolusso, is that certain
types of cattle protein are permitted in cattle feed -- such as blood and
- As a result, said Tolusso, determining that cattle DNA
was in feed would not have proven the ban had been violated.
- However, Hansen said the tissue and bone fragments the
CFIA's scientists found under the microscope were clearly not blood or
milk -- and would have been large enough to submit to DNA testing.
- "They've said they could physically see things [under
the microscope]," said Hansen. "So you could . . . pull those
out and test them. You only need a tiny amount."
- Hansen said the agency's failure to use DNA testing raises
questions about whether it was really interested in knowing what the animal
- "Why wouldn't you do the tests?" said Hansen.
"It makes me wonder: Did they not particularly want to find the answer?
Because if they tested it and found virtually all of it was prohibited
[cattle remains], I guess they would have to admit there are serious problems
with the feed rules."
- Tolusso said such concerns played no role in the decision
not to use the DNA tests.
- "It would be in our best interests if we had a dependable
test that we could use to test feed and ensure if it's in compliance [with
the feed ban] or not," he said.
- He said there are no additional feed tests currently
- Conservative agriculture critic Diane Finley said Thursday
she doesn't think the CFIA is doing enough to prevent the spread of BSE.
- "I have to wonder why the CFIA hasn't been moving
a little faster on this," she said.
- The CFIA feed tests were conducted earlier this year
after U.S. authorities sent seven shipments of Canadian feed back in the
summer of 2003 because they were contaminated with animal parts.
- Finley said she thinks the CFIA should have started testing
feed shortly after the country's feed ban was implemented in 1997.
- "I would have expected it to have been done earlier,
because we knew -- and they knew -- that this was how the disease can be
spread," she said. "It just shows the slow reaction of the government
and the CFIA. The minister has been claiming that they've been doing everything
they possibly could to control it. And it's obvious they haven't been."
- Controlled experiments have shown an animal needs to
consume as little as one milligram of infected material -- about the size
of a grain of sand -- from an animal with BSE to develop the brain-wasting
- Consumption of beef from cows infected with BSE has been
linked to the development in humans of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,
a deadly brain-wasting illness.
- Earlier this month, the CFIA proposed new regulations
that would ban the parts of cattle most susceptible to BSE infection --
such as the spine and brains -- from all feed, including that destined
for pigs and chickens.
- Some experts, including Hansen, have argued that Canada
should go further and keep cattle remains out of feed altogether, as is
done in Europe.
- However, on Thursday, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister
Andy Mitchell said the new regulations should be sufficient to prevent
the spread of BSE in Canada.
- "The reason why we are putting forward these additional
regulations is to deal with those instances where there is the possibility
of cross-contamination," said Mitchell. "We want to move forward
on this and ensure our feed is safe. Cross-contamination is a possibility
but that's why [we] are putting in these new regulations."
- Kathleen Sullivan, general manager of the Animal Nutrition
Association of Canada -- which represents feed producers -- said it has
scheduled a meeting with the CFIA to discuss the results of its tests.
- "This is the kind of thing any industry would be
concerned about, provoked by, and want to explore," she said.
- She said the association is also troubled by the fact
that some of the internal memos obtained by The Sun -- which described
the test results as "worrisome" -- conflict with assurances it
has received from the CFIA.
- "I have concerns about the internal memos that suggest
some rather profound problems in the industry when the information was
portrayed to us in a very different light," Sullivan said. "We're
getting inconsistent information from CFIA on how they interpret the information."
- Cindy McCreath, spokeswoman for the Canadian Cattlemen's
Association, said the public shouldn't be concerned about the CFIA's tests
because the animal material could be anything.
- "Undeclared animal materials can mean many things
-- rodent contamination, birds," she said. "It's highly unlikely
that someone was dropping a cow's brain into a load of canola."
- And McCreath stressed that many cattle in Canada don't
even eat that much packaged feed -- because there is plenty of hay and
silage grown on farms. © The Vancouver Sun 2004