Dairy and cattle producers urged to have suspect cattle tested for BSE

In the wake of BSE, Canada agreed to test 30,000 brain stem samples 
annually but officials say test numbers are falling

Canada is in danger of breaching its commitment on BSE testing, and producers need to be more vigilant in having suspect cattle tested, say industry officials.

Canada made a pledge to the World Organization for Animal Health that it would conduct extensive testing, and that promise has trade implications.

“We’ve also made a commitment to the countries we trade with to test 30,000 head,” said Doug Sawyer, past chair of Alberta Beef Producers.

“As of September, we were right around 24,000. That puts us on target to possibly make our target by the end of the year, but it’s also cutting it pretty tight.”

It’s not known what the repercussions could be if Canada doesn’t meet the testing targets.

“I would hope it’s not a huge issue, but when it comes to international trade, you just never know,” said Sawyer.

The matter needs to be discussed with trading partners and there is a good argument for lowering the number of tests, he added.

“Our cow herd has dropped, so the 30,000 is a much higher percentage of our animals than what it ever used to be,” he said.

Officials noticed a drop in the number of brain stem samples from Alberta and Saskatchewan dairy and beef farms being sent for BSE testing about a year ago. That prompted a recent awareness campaign delivered at producer meetings and through industry newsletters.

Any cow over the age of 30 months that unexpectedly dies, cannot stand or walk, or needs to be euthanized because of distress or disease should be tested.

Dairy producers need to do their part, too, said Albert Kamps, a dairy producer from Lacombe and an Alberta Milk director who has served as chairman of its animal health committee.

Apathy may be part of the reason for the decline in testing, he said.

“BSE was 10 years ago and people seem to have forgotten about (the need for testing),” said Kamps.

He noted testing is free and producers receive $75 when a sample is taken from one of their cows.

This is a good time for testing, he added.

“We’ve targeted the fall season because it is much more popular to leave the cow in the yard in the winter than in the hot summer sun,” said Kamps.

Producers should call a veterinarian to arrange for a brain stem sample to be taken. The vet will come within three days.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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