Backgrounder: Canada achieving negligible risk status for BSE


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

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)

BSE is a prion disease, and is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of cattle. A bovine can become infected with classical BSE after eating feed contaminated with BSE prions in its first year of life. There is no treatment or vaccine currently available for the disease. It is what is known as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other TSEs include scrapie in sheepchronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

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 classical BSE was found in May 2003. Canada's last case of classical BSE, was found in 2015. For more information on cases of BSE detected in Canada, visit the BSE surveillance web page.

CFIA's role in eliminating BSE from Canada

To prevent new BSE infections from occurring, Canada’s BSE control program establishes the following measures:  

  • continuing to follow international standards for safe trade of products derived from bovines 
  • excluding specified risk material (SRM), the tissues known to contain the greatest amounts of prions in infected cattle, from the entire terrestrial and aquatic animal feed chains as well as fertilizers and the human food chain
  • excluding most mammalian proteins (referred to as prohibited material) from feed for ruminants
  • ensuring a surveillance program is in place to sample and test cattle
  • creating awareness and training activities to ensure stakeholders are familiar with the feed ban, the SRM controls, the animals targeted for surveillance, and their reporting requirements
  • maintaining laboratory capacity to properly test bovines for BSE, and to timely report any confirmed cases
  • ensuring livestock identification is in place to enable tracing of bovines

For historical details of Canada’s Enhanced Feed Ban, visit About Canada's Enhanced Feed Ban.

Canada’s BSE risk status

The BSE risk status of a country can be officially recognised by the WOAH when the country meets the following conditions:

  • the BSE risk assessment demonstrates that the risk of BSE being recycled within the bovine population is negligible
  • the surveillance program is designed to detect the re-emergence of classical BSE in a timely manner
  • all cases of BSE are completely destroyed or disposed of to ensure that they do not enter the feed or food chain

The BSE risk status of a country is considered to be “negligible” if all the above conditions are met for at least the preceding 8 years. When all conditions are met, but 1 or more of these conditions has not been met for the preceding 8 years, the BSE risk of the country is considered to be “controlled”. The BSE risk of a bovine population is considered to be “undetermined” if it cannot be demonstrated that it meets the requirements for negligible or controlled BSE risk.

To demonstrate compliance with all above conditions, a country submits a questionnaire for assessment by WOAH. Upon approval, WOAH Members endorse the new official status recognition.

In May 2007 and May 2021, the WOAH officially recognised Canada as a country with a controlled and then a negligible BSE risk status respectively. Canada’s risk assessment demonstrated that the risk of the classical BSE agent being recycled within Canada’s bovine population has been negligible since 2007. This is referred to as ‘the starting date’.

To maintain its official BSE risk status, Canada annually submits to the WOAH a reconfirmation form providing evidence of ongoing compliance with all conditions.

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.

Related products

News release: Minister Bibeau welcomes recognition that Canada is negligible risk for BSE

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