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Discovery of BSE in Canada
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• Letter to the American Sheep Industry

 


What is BSE?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) affects the central nervous system of beef and dairy cattle. It is also sometimes referred to as "mad cow disease".

BSE belongs to the family of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs). Other diseases in this family include chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. Although the origin of these diseases is unknown, they are caused by the presence of an abnormal protein in the brain called a prion.

It is believed that cattle contract BSE through meat and bone meal (MBM) containing the remains of other cattle infected with the disease. It is also possible that mothers can pass the disease to their offspring, however, this theory has not been confirmed. BSE is not transmitted from cattle to cattle.

BSE and Scrapie
During the BSE outbreak in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, it was speculated that cattle contracted BSE from feed containing sheep offal infected with scrapie. Scientific evidence, however, did not validate this theory, and therefore, the theory was discarded. Although BSE contaminated feeds can pose a risk to sheep, there is no risk of scrapie being spread to cattle or humans.

BSE and the Sheep Industry
Following the announcement on May 20th, 2003 that BSE was discovered in a cow in Alberta, the United States closed its border to all Canadian ruminant and ruminant products, including sheep.

The Canadian Sheep Federation recognizes that the border closing will severely affect our industry. In 2002, the total value of live sheep and processed product exported to the United States was approximately 19, 800, 000 dollars (Statistics Canada). The CSF’s position is that sheep should not be included in the current ban since they pose no risk to cattle or human health. We are working with provincial organizations to encourage government officials to address this issue. For more information on how the border closing has affected markets, please contact your provincial organization or government department.

Additional sources of information:

Canadian Food Inspection Agency - www.inspection.gc.ca or 1-800-454-8408
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association - www.cattle.ca
United States Department of Agriculture - www.usda.gov


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