When the first Canadian case of mad cow disease was discovered in Canada in 2003 sensationalist news coverage sparked widespread fear over the safety of Canadian beef. Forty-one countries closed their border to Canadian beef, and in the following 18 months producers suffered $5 billion in losses. To date only 19 cases of mad cow disease have been discovered in Canada. Cattle ranchers in Alberta were hit the hardest.
Certainly, mad cow, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), comes with some scary symptoms: nervous or aggressive behavior, difficulty walking, and eventually the inability to stand. In humans it is linked to ingestion of disease-carrying cow parts (brain and spinal cord), its infection rate is two to five cases per 100 million people. Even so, the organs were banned from the human food chain since 2003. Four years later, the federal government also banned at-risk parts from animal feed, pet foods, and fertilizers.
“It’s something that we felt we needed to do to gain recognition at the international level that we are controlling this disease”, says Masswohl. “By enhancing the feed ban, we can eliminate the number of years until we can declare we’ve virtually eradicated BSE.”
This is key to the industry’s survival: 60 percent of Canada’s beef is produced for export, and 90 percent of beef and 99 percent of live cattle exports go to the United States. “It was a very significant disruption that we faced”, says then Minister of Agriculture Andy Mitchell. Most countries have reopened their borders to Canadian beef since Mitchell’s time, but not all: Japan, China, Taiwan, Mexico, and South Korea remain closed. South Korea imported $60 million worth of beef in 2002, but nothing since 2003. While extensive trade talks have resulted in a promise to reopen borders this year, as Mitchell says: “There is still some ways to go.”
Title: “S. Korea Agrees To Lift Ban on Canadian Beef Imports”
Publication: Yonhap News Agency, 28 June 2011
Title: “South Korea, Canada to Hold Talks on Beef Imports”
Publication: BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 4 September 2010
Title: “No Sacred Cows”
Author: Mary Dirmeitis
Publication: This Magazine, 8 December 2011
Faculty Evaluator: Heather Flynn, Sonoma State University
Student Researcher: Lindsay Lytle, Sonoma State University