Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Alta. to skew BSE surveillance younger

Younger Alberta cattle at high risk for BSE will be the new focus of the federal/provincial surveillance program for the disease.

Starting July 1, the Canada-Alberta BSE surveillance program, run by Alberta’s agriculture department and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, will shift its focus to testing younger cattle for which critical disease history and diagnoses are available. The revised program, which is to operate on a pilot basis, will also reject most cattle ages nine and up.

Because most cases of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) show up in cattle between four and seven years old, a point system developed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) assigns a higher value for high-risk cattle in that age range.

The OIE uses its point system to judge the value of a member country’s BSE surveillance.

With that range of risk in mind, program staff have decided that cattle over the age of eight years, 11 months “will no longer qualify for BSE testing unless they have neurological signs indicating they may have BSE,” said Dr. Gerald Ollis, Alberta’s chief veterinarian, in a provincial newsletter.

The new age cutoff is expected to reduce the number of animals eligible for testing, but the province said it expects to maintain international confidence in its negative test results if it selects for cattle that yield the highest OIE surveillance point values.

Among other program changes:

  • only licensed veterinarians certified by the Alberta ag department can participate in the program;
  • veterinarians must verify the age of the animal sampled (dentition can be used for animals up to five years old and farm records are required for animals between 60 and 107 months old);
  • veterinarians must provide a comprehensive description of the herd and operation, not just the animal;
  • in the case of a dead animal, veterinarians will be required to conduct a post-mortem and record the cause of death; and
  • producers must be in possession of the animal for at least 30 days in order to provide an adequate clinical history.

Cattle producers who submit an animal for testing that meets the new standards will continue to get a reimbursement of $225 per animal.

The Canada-Alberta program has tested more than 100,000 high-risk cattle to date, representing more than 40 per cent of cattle tested in Canada. Alberta has been home to nine of Canada’s 12 confirmed cases of BSE to date, and the province of origin for one U.S. case in 2003.

The program, Ollis said, “has done a tremendous job of gathering information on BSE levels in older Alberta cattle… A move toward more targeted, precise sampling further strengthens Alberta’s vitally important cattle industry and provides a possible model for the rest of the country.”

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