WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Cargill Ltd. has recalled feed from about 100 Canadian farms because it may contain trace amounts of an ingredient banned to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, the company said on Saturday.
Canadian veterinary officials are trying to determine how many and what kind of cattle ate the feed, and whether the feed could contain any infective material, the country's chief veterinarian said.
"The younger animals are the ones that we'll be particularly interested in, if there were younger animals on these farms," Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in an interview.
Cargill, the Canadian division of privately held U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., said it shipped a cattle feed ingredient between October 31 and November 14 in a rail car previously used to ship meat and bone meal made from cattle and other ruminant livestock.
The meat and bone meal can be used in hog and poultry feed, but has been banned from cattle feed since 1997 by Canada and the United States because of the risk of spreading bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.
An estimated 400 to 500 tons of feed were affected in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, but Cargill did not know how much was eaten before the recall, which began on Friday, said spokesman Rob Meijer.
"What happened in terms of the cross-contamination is a no-no, and we are taking a very precautionary step here in a voluntary way and we're cleaning it up," Meijer said.
Canada has uncovered eight cases of mad cow disease in its domestic herd since May 2003, and hopes to eliminate the disease within a decade by tightening its feed rules.
By July, cattle brains, spines and other material thought to create the most risk for spreading mad cow disease will be banned from all types of animal feed.
The materials have been kept out of human food since May 2003.
Young livestock are most susceptible to contracting the disease, which takes an average of four to seven years to incubate, he said.
By next week, the agency hopes to be able to assess the risk posed by the contaminated feed, Evans said.
"If there is a determination that the potential is that these animals could incubate BSE and express BSE several years into the future, then that will be part of how we'll work with the producers, to ensure that does not happen," he said.
"It may or may not turn out to be a non-event, but we're treating it with the type of diligence that we feel is appropriate to make sure that we are on a track to eradicate BSE as quickly as possible," he said.
Investigators believe six of Canada's eight diseased animals consumed tainted feed before or shortly after the introduction of the 1997 feed ban.
Another contracted the disease five years after the ban, but investigators said it ate feed from a plant that failed to clean its equipment properly after making hog and poultry rations.