Backgrounder: Canada achieving negligible risk status for BSE


Recognition by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as a negligible-risk country for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a major milestone for Canada and its beef producers. Negligible risk status will support ongoing work between the Government of Canada and cattle and beef industry to explore new market access opportunities.

What is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)

BSE is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of cattle. It is what is known as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other TSEs include scrapie in sheepchronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Although the exact cause of BSE is unknown, it is associated with the presence of an abnormal protein called a prion. There is no treatment or vaccine currently available for the disease.

Additional facts about BSE are available on the CFIA website.

BSE history in Canada

BSE has been a reportable disease in Canada since 1990. In 1993, BSE was found in a beef cow that had been imported from the UK in 1987. Canada's first domestic case of BSE was found in May 2003. Canada's last case, its 19th domestic case, was found in February 2015.

CFIA's role in eliminating BSE from Canada

BSE has not been detected in Canada since 2015. The CFIA maintains regulatory controls, including surveillance sampling and testing, specified risk material (SRM) controls, livestock identification, and the feed ban to keep the risk of new BSE infections to a negligible level.

In infected cattle, BSE concentrates in certain tissues known as SRM. As a public health protection, these tissues are removed from all cattle slaughtered for human consumption. To limit BSE spread among cattle, the Government of Canada banned most proteins, including SRM, from cattle feed in 1997. To provide further animal health protection, as of July 12, 2007, SRM are also banned from all animal feeds, pet foods and fertilizers.

How the OIE evaluates BSE risk

In May 2007, the OIE implemented a 3 tiered country categorization system for evaluating BSE risk:

  • Negligible: A country can demonstrate compliance with the recommended safeguards for at least 8 years and classical BSE has never been found in domestic animals younger than 11 years old.
  • Controlled: A country can demonstrate compliance with the recommended safeguards, but not for at least 8 years, and any infected domestic animals born in the previous 11 years have been managed in accordance with OIE guidelines.
  • Undetermined: A country is unable to demonstrate that it meets the requirement of one of the other categories.

Canada's strong submission for a new status

Since May 2007, Canada had successfully maintained its OIE controlled risk status for BSE.

In May 2021, Canada obtained its OIE negligible risk status for BSE.

The Government of Canada worked closely with provinces and industry to put forward a strong application based on data. In July 2020, Canada submitted its application to the OIE to be recognized as a "negligible" risk country for BSE. In March 2021, the OIE Scientific Commission for Animal Diseases concluded that Canada fulfilled the requirements to be recognized as having negligible risk status for BSE. Member countries of the OIE had 60 days to request information about the report and the recommendation. The results of the vote were announced at the World Assembly of OIE Delegates at the 88th OIE General Session on May 27, 2021.

Canada's application to the OIE highlighted Canada's strong BSE control measures, including surveillance sampling and testing, SRM controls, livestock identification and the feed ban.

The CFIA will continue to work with the cattle and beef sectors, provinces and territories to maintain the negligible risk status through continued efforts in preventing and controlling the spread of domestic and foreign animal diseases.

Current market access

The majority of Canada's major beef export markets have already approved all Canadian beef based on their science-based recognition of Canada's previous controlled risk status including as follows (value of Canadian beef exports in 2020 as indicated):

  • U.S. ($2.5 billion)
  • Japan ($305 million)
  • Hong Kong ($109 million)
  • Viet Nam ($41 million)
  • Philippines ($5.1 million)
  • United Arab Emirates ($3.8 million)

The CFIA, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) will continue to work collaboratively with Canadian industry to prioritize negotiations with trading partners that include negligible BSE risk status among the requirements for market access.

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