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030709 Chance Canada's Mad Cow May Have Come from U.S.

July 5, 2003

Winnipeg, Manitoba - There is a small chance that Canada's single case of mad cow disease originated in the United States, the result of either an infected animal or tainted feed crossing the border, a Canadian food-safety investigator said on Thursday.

The precise source of Canada's lone case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy , or mad cow disease, continues to elude investigators, who have wrapped up the main part of their search into an incident that has devastated the beef industry.

"The one thing we know, she received infected feed. And where that feed is coming from, this is really the question we are trying to answer," said Francine Lord, manager of imports and exports for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Investigators believe the cow ate feed contaminated with protein rendered from infected cattle before Canada and the United States banned the feeding practice in 1997, Lord said.

The infected cattle likely were imported from the United Kingdom before its outbreak of mad cow disease, she said.

There are about equal chances the infected protein came from Canada or the United States, she said, since trade in the now-banned feed products used to be common.

"It used to be a huge market because it's such a cheap source of energy" to fatten cattle, Lord said.

Officials are 95 percent sure they know where the cow was born and where she spent her life, Lord said.

Under this most likely scenario, the cow was born in Canada, Lord said.

But there is a 5 percent chance that the cow traveled a different route through farms on the Prairies before ending up in northern Alberta where she became ill, Lord said.

Under that scenario, investigators cannot rule out that the cow may have been imported, Lord said.

About 25,000 pregnant U.S. cows entered the Canadian herd in 1998 through a loophole in a new regulation that allowed imports of U.S. cattle into Canadian feedlots, Lord said.

"As soon as we found out, we modified the regulation ... and to strictly say no" to imports of breeding stock without disease testing, Lord said.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said it's unlikely the sick cow came from the United States.

"We have no reason to believe cattle exported to Canada from the United States carried BSE," said Julie Quick, citing a 14-year-old testing program for suspect cattle, the ban on feeding protein from cud-chewing animals to cattle since 1997, and restrictions since 1989 on importing cattle and animal protein.

"We feel we have a very strong program in place," Quick said.

As part of its extensive investigation, Canada slaughtered more than 2,700 cattle earmarked as possible herdmates of the diseased cow, and tested more than 2,000 of them that were old enough to show signs of the brain-wasting disease, which has a long incubation period.


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