Canada clears most cattle in suspect feed case

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May 13, 2006

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian veterinary officials lifted restrictions on about 7,700 cattle on Wednesday that had been part of a contaminated feed investigation after confirming they did not eat suspect foodstuff.

But another 2,450 cattle remain confined to 26 farms in Quebec while officials study how many of them ate feed that may have contained trace amounts of meat and bone meal made from cattle -- material banned from cattle feed because of the risk of spreading bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

The chance that the cattle could develop mad cow disease is remote, said Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canada's chief veterinarian.

"The potential for BSE infectivity is very, very low," Evans said, noting most of the animals are mature dairy cattle.

Canada has had eight cases of mad cow disease in its domestic herd since May 2003, and hopes to eradicate the disease within a decade.

Humans can develop a rare form of the fatal brain-wasting disease from eating contaminated meat, and 200 people worldwide have died from it, mainly during a British outbreak of BSE in the 1980s.

The restricted cattle can be slaughtered and consumed in Canada, where food safety rules ban all brains, spines and other material that can harbor mad cow disease.

The latest incident began in mid-November when Cargill Ltd. shipped a feed ingredient in a rail car that had not been completely cleaned out after previously containing meat and bone meal.

Veterinary officials ruled the meat and bone meal left in the car was very small, and are still studying whether the feed ingredient shipped in the car was actually added to any feed rations before the mistake was uncovered.

Cargill recalled and destroyed feed from two mills that had distributed it to 113 farms in Ontario and Quebec, but the CFIA has since determined that only one of the mills received the suspect feed ingredient.

All the cattle involved in the investigation have been permanently identified using Canada's national tracing system.

Cargill has assured the farmers they would not be economically harmed by the incident.

The CFIA has asked scientific experts in Europe and Asia to review its investigation findings.

Peer reviews received to date have endorsed the agency's actions, Evans said.