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Alta. Weighs Idea Of “Client-Driven” BSE Tests

Anew Alberta-backed study will consider whether the “market premiums” would outweigh the costs if BSE tests were to be allowed whenever an importer asks.

The project is meant to help see if pre-or post-slaughter testing would allow Canadian products into some still-unavailable export markets.

“Alberta’s beef industry is market driven (and) we need to constantly be evolving as science and technology progresses in order to further enhance our market opportunities,” provincial Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden said in a release May 5.

Testing of slaughtered cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is done in Alberta under the Canada/Alberta BSE Surveillance Program (CABSESP). That joint initiative focuses on random surveillance of higher-risk animals, mostly from ages 30 to 107 months.

Surveillance helps maintain Canada’s “controlled risk” status for BSE at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), which in turn allows Canadian exports to countries where beef import policies follow OIE standards.

That said, “at this time, Canadian products are still restricted in certain markets that could be important to industry,” Dr. Kevin Keough, executive director for the Alberta Prion Research Institute, said in the same release.

The George Morris Centre, the Guelph-based farm sector think-tank, will be paid $179,000 to run the cost-benefit analysis.

Since Canada’s first of 17 domestic cases of BSE was confirmed in an Alberta cow in 2003, the Canadian beef industry has been “challenged in maintaining and growing its market access,” the province said.

The potentially thorny debate over “client-driven” testing of beef cattle aired aloud mostly in the U. S. over the last half-decade. Creekstone Farms, a Kansas processor, took the U. S. Department of Agriculture to court in 2006.

Creekstone was challenging USDA’s refusal to let the company buy BSE kits to test its own slaughtered cattle. The packer got as far as the U. S. Court of Appeals, which sided with USDA in August 2008.

USDA and others in the industry have said allowing packers to test on their own would undermine the long-held official position: that a combination of random surveillance, removal of specified risk materials and a ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feeding is sufficient to assure safe beef.

Creekstone Farms said all it wanted was to “meet its customers’ interest in beef from BSE-tested cattle.”

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