Canada confirms case of mad cow disease, first since 2011

Cattle graze in a pasture in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta in a Jan 23, 2006, file photo. Canada confirmed on Feb 13, 2015, that it had found a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow dise
Cattle graze in a pasture in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta in a Jan 23, 2006, file photo. Canada confirmed on Feb 13, 2015, that it had found a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, in a beef cow in the province of Alberta. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (REUTERS) - Canada, a major exporter of beef, said on Friday it had found a case of mad cow disease in a beef cow in the province of Alberta, the first in the country since 2011.

A statement from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said no part of the cow had reached the human food or animal feed systems and said exports should not be harmed.

Mad cow is formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a progressive, fatal neurological disease.

"The CFIA is seeking to confirm the age of the animal, its history and how it became infected. The investigation will focus in on the feed supplied to this animal during the first year of its life," the agency said.

Canadian exports were badly hit in 2003 after the first case of BSE was found on a farm.

Canada subsequently tightened its controls and many nations have since resumed the beef trade with Canada, despite the discovery of more cases since then.

Canadian beef exports were worth around C$2 billion (S$2.1 billion) in 2014, according to Statistics Canada data.

John Masswohl, director of government and international relations at the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, noted the carcass had never made it to a packing plant.

"Overall, we are not too concerned there will be much impact," he said.

BSE is believed to be spread when cattle eat protein rendered from the brains and spines of infected cattle or sheep.

Canada banned that practice in 1997.

The CFIA tightened feed rules in 2007 and said at the time the moves should help eliminate the disease nationally within a decade, although the agency said it still expected to discover the occasional new case.

A fresh discovery of BSE may not close borders to Canadian beef, given Canada's tougher measures, but it could delay the country's efforts to upgrade its international risk status from the World Organisation for Animal Health.