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Changes Improve Alberta’s BSE Surveillance Program

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If you are in Alberta please note these very recent changes to the program and take advantage of them as we need the case numbers.

Beef 911

As of Jan. 1 Alberta has introduced significant improvements to the BSE program which will benefit farmers, especially in the spring calving time. Hopefully other provinces may follow suit.

Those in charge of the Alberta program (provincial vets) realized that with the prior limiting changes and the decrease in cattle population in Alberta that the numbers of BSE submissions were down significantly, which directly corresponds to fewer points on the OIE system. This is undesirable situation for international trade.

I need to make it very clear that in Alberta there is no veterinary cost or mileage cost to the producer for this service.

The main changes have been reinstating formerly allowable submissions. The maximum age for almost all categories is still one month under nine years of age but most cattle will fit as most old cows have been culled from the system. We still need to have ownership for 30 days so short-keep auction market or dealer cattle do not qualify.

Calving-related deaths or those resulting in prolonged downer status qualify. Even the prolapsed uterus cow which dies again qualifies. Where your veterinarian can alleviate the problem such as fixing a prolapsed uterus or correcting a malpresentation or doing a caesarian section, he/she should still do so. In cases of an emphysematous calving where the veterinarian feels the health of the cow is severely compromised, she could be put down for humane reasons and fit the BSE program.

Cancerous eyes, lumpy jaws, mastitis and severe foot problems again qualify but only if they have got to the stage where they are unfit for human consumption or are unable to be humanely transported. One must think of the distance necessary to be transported and by what means. There is a huge difference taking an older arthritic cow 30 miles by herself in a stock trailer to a provincial plant versus loading that same cow in the front of a pot-bellied trailer with other healthy cows and being hauled 500 miles to a federal plant. Your veterinarian may have to make the call on these. If you are in doubt phone and find out. They would like postmortems done, but if completely frozen, as long as a sample can be retrieved and the cow is the right age it is acceptable again.

For attempted surgeries which have not gone well there is no longer a seven-day waiting period. They now qualify immediately if the post-surgery situation looks grave.


If for humane reasons there is an animal which needs to be euthanized because of a compound fracture, broken back etc. these can now be humanely put down by the owner and a BSE test performed later. It would still be expected where possible to get a verbal OK from your local clinic first before putting the bull or cow down. If the case is acceptable to butcher they would still like to have the sample submitted under the BSE program. This would help the program although the producer is not compensated as it is considered double dipping.

In the future they may look at the producer at least receiving partial compensation for efforts in helping with the emergency slaughter. For now there is solace in you are helping the program and the veterinarian could at least look at the carcass and organs to check that the meat is acceptable for human consumption.

The one category where older age is now waived are those neurological cases such as the sudden paralysis, seizure, ataxic, circling deficit that your veterinarian attributes to a neurological problem. These can be tested at any older age and show changes in locomotion, sensation or mentation. These qualities make this a fairly broad category so again in an old cow I would recommend making a phone call to your local veterinarian to see if the case qualifies.

As in the past, the BSE program puts veterinarians in touch with their clients. We can better understand what is going on management-wise with the herd and based on the results of the postmortem better advise if possible a preventative course of action in the future. For participating clinics the BSE post-mortem results tie directly into the AVSN (Alberta Veterinary Surveillance Network) which monitors disease occurrence in Alberta and facilitates keeping Alberta’s cattle population healthier.


At the same time as performing these BSE tests veterinarians keep an eye out for reportable and/or notifiable diseases. Each province will have a list of these diseases and it will vary slightly in the different geographic regions. These lists also change slightly over time. Reportable diseases are those which action will be taken to eradicate. These often will parallel the federal reportable diseases. Foot and mouth disease is a good example.

More recently death from a toxic substance which is any poison which poses a threat to animal or human health has been added. This would include lead poisoning, arsenic poisoning etc. By getting the provincial veterinarians involved they help the local veterinarian and producer deal with the problem and prevent it occurring in the future.

Notifiable diseases are those which we are monitoring for trade purposes and to help understand their presence in Alberta. We simply report them to the provincial government and the information is taken in. We deal with it in our own way with the farmer but if incidence increases province-wide measures may be put in place. Communication may be made to surrounding veterinarians to keep an eye out for that disease as well.

Overall it allows us to keep Alberta cattle healthier by working together. Diseases in this category would include Johne’s and the emerging reproductive diseases vibrio and trichomoniasis. As mentioned every province has a slightly different approach to both the BSE testing and the reportable diseases so your local veterinarian is the best source for this information.

If you are in Alberta please note these very recent changes to the program and take advantage of them as we need the case numbers.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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