Canada broadened its safeguards against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, yesterday by banning the use of cattle brains, spinal cords, and certain other body parts from all animal feeds, pet foods, and fertilizer.
The step will speed up the elimination of BSE from Canadian cattle, government officials said, but for now it is creating a major waste-disposal challenge and bureaucratic headaches, according to Canadian news reports.
The Canadian rule applies to "specified risk materials" (SRM), meaning cattle parts that are likely to contain the BSE agent if the animal is infected. They include the skull, brain, eyes, tonsils, spinal cord, and certain nerve bundles (trigeminal and dorsal root ganglia) in cattle 30 months or older, plus the distal ileum (part of the small intestine) of all cattle.
The collective weight of all those materials is estimated at more than 100,000 tons per year in Canada, according to Freeman Libby, director of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA's) Feed Ban Task Force, who was quoted in a Jul 9 CanWest News Service report. All of that must now be disposed of differently than in the past.
US eyes narrower restrictions
The United States, meanwhile, is considering copying the Canadian action in part, but it's not clear how soon that might happen. In October 2005, the Food and Drug Administration proposed banning the brains and spinal cords of older cattle from animal feed and pet food, and the agency has been reviewing comments on the proposal for more than a year.
"There is no estimated time frame on when a final rule will be published," FDA spokesman Michael Herndon told CIDRAP News yesterday. "The agency is working to develop and issue a final rule as expeditiously as possible." He said he couldn't give any explanation for the delay.
Because cattle contract BSE by eating infective material from other cattle, both the United States and Canada banned the use of cattle protein in feed for cattle and other ruminant animals in 1997. But the two countries have continued to allow cattle parts in feed for nonruminant animals, such as pigs and poultry.
After Canada discovered its first BSE case in May 2003, the country banned the use of SRM from cattle older than 30 months in human food. The United States followed suit shortly after the first US case of BSE was found in December 2003. Canada has discovered a total of 10 BSE cases, the last one in May, while the United States has found three, the last one in March 2006.
The reason for banning SRM from animal feed and pet food is to prevent the possible spread of BSE through accidental mixing of ruminant and nonruminant feed during feed manufacturing or through misfeeding of nonruminant feed to ruminants.
Canada announced plans for the extended feed ban in June 2006. In marking the advent of the new rules yesterday, Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Chuck Strahl said the government "has taken a significant step toward accelerating the elimination of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from Canadian cattle. These new rules will help increase access to foreign markets, and support Canada's status as a controlled risk country for BSE from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)."
A CFIA fact sheet says that with the broader feed ban, BSE is expected to be eliminated from Canadian cattle in about 10 years; without the new rules, eradication was expected to take several decades.
Effects of the ban
The ban means producers can no longer feed any products containing SRM to livestock, and slaughterhouses must identify SRM so they can be removed from the feed system, the CFIA said. In addition, those who handle, transport, or dispose of cattle carcasses and certain cattle tissues must have a CFIA permit.
"This system enables continuous control over SRM, so that it does not enter the animal feed system," the agency said.
To help industry set up the infrastructure for SRM disposal, the Canadian government is providing $80 million for provincial disposal programs, the CFIA said. Most provinces have established such programs, for which they must provide 40% of the funding, with the federal government supplying the rest, according to the release.
The new restrictions are causing major headaches for the cattle industry, according to the CanWest News report.
The story said SRM must now be removed with special equipment, hauled away in dedicated trucks, processed, and then buried in landfills, burned in high-temperature incinerators, or dumped into composters and bioenergy plants.
The $80 million the federal government is investing "has yet to reach many people on the front lines whose bills are soaring as they scramble to meet the new rules," the story said. Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, called the situation "enormously frustrating."
For example, Johnston Packers, a slaughterhouse near Chilliwack, B.C., planned to spend $1 million on new equipment and space for removal and handling of SRM, according to the report. But the project was stalled by delays in government funding, and the company had to come up with a temporary solution so the plant could continue to operate.
USDA makes BSE-related rules permanent
Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced yesterday that several BSE-related interim rules, including the ban on SRM from human food, have been made permanent. The agency didn't say whether it intentionally timed the announcement to coincide with the broadening of Canada's feed ban.
The USDA announced the ban on SRM in the food supply as an interim rule in January 2004, about 3 weeks after the first US BSE case was found. At the same time, the agency posted interim rules banning (1) the use of "downer" cattle—those that can't walk when presented for slaughter—for food and (2) the use of high-pressure cattle-stunning devices that could drive SRM tissue into meat.
Yesterday the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said these rules have been made permanent. "Experience has borne out that these interim steps were correct and should be made permanent," said Dr. Richard Raymond, USDA under secretary for food safety, in a news release.
CFIA information page on enhanced feed ban
Jul 12 USDA news release on final rule banning use of downer cattle for food
Text of USDA final rule on downer cattle and SRM in human food