Mad cow disease OR BSE

LETS TALK ABOUT testing for BSE or mad cow disease!

Many of you may remember the devastating early 2000’s and the impact that BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) had on the Canadian cattle market and economy.

In 2003, a case of BSE was found in Alberta and the governments of 34 countries (including US and Mexico) banned the imports of ruminants and ruminant products across their borders form Canada. The Canadian cattle industry is extremely export dependent, and the loss of all of the major export markets was absolutely devastating on the industry. All of a sudden, there was a HUGE surplus of cattle THAT STILL NEEDED TO BE FED with no where to go. The surplus with little demand cause the prices of cattle to plummet. The prices at one Alberta auction dropped from $1.20/lb to $0.32/lb.

If things couldn’t get worse… there was also a major multi year drought happening. Many farming families were living on incomes below poverty. I saw family friends lose their multi-generation farms and livelihoods. I watched farmers, including my family, work harder for less pay and struggle financially, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Farmers were taking out loans to ensure their cattle were still fed although there were worth next to nothing.

Okay.. I’m SURE you want me to get to my point.


SURVEILLANCE. Surveillance is one of the many BSE-related actions that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has taken. Canada has had a national BSE surveillance program since 1992 to ensure our food system is SAFE. In 2003, when the first case of BSE was found, the government INCREASED the number of BSE samples that would be done annually. AGAIN, this was to ensure YOU have safe food to eat.

Canada ALSO implemented a CANADIAN CATTLE IDENTIFICATION AGENCY (CCIA) to make it possible to trace individual animals back to their herd of origin.

OTHER MITIGATION MEASURES include ensuring certain nervous tissue does not go into the food chain (specified risk material). An enhanced feed ban was also put in placed that eliminated the possibility of any BSE material to be incorporated into animal/pet food and fertilizers.


We go out and take samples of high risk animals that are more likely to be potentially infected. This includes cattle over the age of 30 months that are found dead, dying, or disease AND cattle showing signs of BSE. We do a full autopsy on the dead animals to identify any pathology. Then, we also remove a portion of the brain called the OBEX that is sent away for BSE testing.

I am incredibly proud of our industry and the food safety system in Canada.

Do you want to learn more about BSE?

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