US Effort To Shift Mad Cow
Origin To Canada Creates Furor
Americans Claim To Link Infected Cow To Canada Dairy Herd
But Ottawa Says DNA Testing Mandatory To Confirm Source

By Valeria Lawton
Ottawa Bureau
The Toronto Star

OTTAWA - Federal officials are accusing the United States of jumping the gun in announcing that an American cow infected with mad cow disease most likely came from Canada.
"We don't have the kind of evidence that we feel you would have to say: `It's that animal, it's this herd, and it's this location,'" said Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinary officer of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
"And unfortunately (that is) what's being portrayed at this point in time ... and we don't think you can possibly be there yet," Evans told a news conference yesterday, just hours after the United States pointed the finger at Canada.
"We understand the pressures that can be placed on an investigation to come to a conclusion in the light of the impact of such a finding," he said. "Nevertheless, we feel that it is imperative that all the evidence be weighed and verified before anyone jumps to any pre-determination at this point in time."
U.S. officials believe they've traced the infected cow back to a dairy farm north of Edmonton.
Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief veterinarian for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said the animal was likely one of a herd of 74.
He said the dairy cows were imported into Idaho from Alberta in August 2001.
"We're talking about very preliminary information" from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Alberta herd owner, DeHaven said.
However, Evans argued it's premature to say Alberta was the source, noting there are significant discrepancies in the animal's age.
DNA tests, expected within days, will conclusively prove or disprove a Canadian connection, he said.
The U.S. alerted Canadian officials they planned to go public with their conclusion about an Alberta herd only minutes ahead of a press conference, said Evans, who has a number of concerns with the evidence used to reach that finding.
For example, the U.S. initially quoted slaughterhouse workers as saying the diseased animal was fully mature, and perhaps 9 to 12 years old, then released information from the farm where the cow last lived suggesting it was approximately 4 years old. But the ear tag that leads back to Canada is for an animal of roughly 6 years of age.
As well, Evans said a brucellosis vaccination tag that was apparently found on the infected animal suggests the possibility of American origins because Canada eradicated that disease and stopped vaccinating for that disease in the mid 1980s.
The age is significant because the animal may have been born before the United States and Canada in 1997 banned certain feed, which is considered the most likely source of infection.
"No ear tag is tamper-proof, ear tags can be removed and reapplied, but again, we're not intimating that that in fact is the circumstance here," said Evans.
"What we're suggesting is that we need to verify, using scientific methods such as DNA, that the animal that left Canada with that ear tag is in fact the animal that the U.S. is pursuing at this point."
Evans said the identification comes from a former dairy operation north of Edmonton. He would not name the farmer because the connection has not been verified. The herd no longer exists.
He also said there is no connection between the infected Holstein dairy cow and the northern Alberta breeder cow that was found to have bovine spongiform encephalapathy (BSE), a brain-wasting disease, earlier this year.
The discovery of a diseased animal last May devastated the Canadian beef industry, with some estimating the damage at $2 billion after more than 30 countries immediately closed their borders to Canadian beef, restrictions that have only recently begun to be lifted.
But Ted Haney of the Canada Beef Export Federation says even if this latest animal is proven to come from Canada, it will not have a major impact on opening international borders.
"May there be a month or two delay? Yes. Will there be a year or two delay? No," he said.
Haney said the possibility of Canada having other cases of mad cow have been discussed with foreign market regulators since the beginning of the crisis seven months ago. Canada has an estimated 15 million cattle and the minimal risk for BSE is described as fewer than one positive case per million.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed resuming imports of Canadian cattle under 30 months of age.
But USDA spokesperson Julie Quick said the department would take another look at its proposal in light of the U.S. mad cow outbreak.
The U.S. beef industry has asked the USDA not to reopen the U.S. border.
"We are requesting an indefinite extension of the final comments regarding the opening of the Canadian border to live animal trade until the (U.S. mad cow) investigation is complete," said Terry Stokes, chief executive officer of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Canadians are worried about how another mad cow case will affect easing the restrictions.
"Beef farmers in Ontario don't need any more bad news this year," said Kelly Daynard, a spokesperson for the 21,000-member Ontario Cattlemen's Association.
"It has been an absolutely terrible year for every one of Canada's 90,000 beef farmers."
Daynard said the bad news came at a time when Ontario beef farmers, who have already lost $100 million over mad cow concerns, were hoping that the borders between Canada and the U.S. would open up for their products sometime next year.
"Who knows when it will happen (now)," she said.
Neil Jahnke, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, also acknowledged the announcement is "bad news."
But he stressed that in North America we've had two incidents of BSE and in Britain they had more than 200,000 that tested positive, "so there is certainly no danger to anyone."
Evans also downplayed the potential for a negative international reaction.
"I don't think at this point in time that we expect that the international community will rush to judgment until all the evidence (is in)," he said.
And, he added, Canada has already acknowledged that an additional small number of cases might be found here in the future. "So I don't think from an international perspective that they see this as all that shocking."
Agriculture Minister Bob Speller declined an interview request yesterday, but issued a statement saying the U.S. comments "may have been premature," but that he'd received assurances from his U.S. counterpart to conduct DNA testing as soon as possible.
Canadian officials are now tracing other animals from the Alberta dairy farm that the suspect animal may have come from.
Investigators are trying to determine whether any of those animals are still living in this country so that they can be destroyed and tested.
U.S. officials say the slaughtered cow was deboned at Midway Meats in Centralia, Wash., and the meat was sent to two other plants in the region, identified as Willamette Valley Meat and Interstate Meat, both near Portland, Ore.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to find out if the cow ate contaminated feed ÷ a difficult task because the animal may have got the disease years before it appeared sick. BSE has an incubation period of four or five years.


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