BSE Case, A Positive For The Canadian Beef Industry

IMG_2313I’m sure some people may have heard about the positive BSE cow that was recently found in Alberta. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to start a blog to clarify things that happen in the industry that maybe aren’t portrayed very well in the media. I think this case is a perfect example of something that is actually a positive for the beef industry when we really take an in depth look at the situation and not simply rely on the media’s interpretation of the event.

Firstly, it would be great if we could stop referring to it as “mad cow”. I think that conjures horrible images in consumer’s minds and is unrelated to the actual prognosis. The proper name is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). BSE is a progressive neurological disease in cattle. In addition, humans cannot contract BSE unless eating certain parts of the animal: the Specified Risk Material or (SRM). All SRM material is removed in animals who are 30 months and over in all slaughter facilities in Canada.

It was very unsettling news for cattle producers in Canada to hear the words BSE in the media. It takes us back to the dark years (2003) when our cattle were instantly worth nothing. For about ten years after that prices were still very low and it was hard and sparse years owning cattle. For example on our family ranch we probably lost over 1 million dollars of income during that ten year span. I am proud to say we made it through those years with our ranch (most of our land and cattle herd) still in tact. We had to find ways to subsidies our business of cattle production. We were lucky enough to have merchantable timber on our place so we did some logging, we also found a gravel vein so developed a gravel pit and sold gravel and unfortunately we had to sell some land as well to make it through. In addition, we could not make any positive progress because there was simply no money. We had to rely on what we already owned and lived very modestly. We have had some positive years lately, but the words BSE still make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. However, once the initial fear from the word subsided I got to thinking that this finding was actually very positive for the Canadian Beef Industry. This case was found because of the ongoing screening and surveillance Canada does for BSE. Canada, because of our status as “controlled BSE risk country”, needs to test 30 000 head of dead, dying or diseased cattle per year. These cattle being tested are not going into the food supply chain and the cow that recently tested positive was found from this screening and was not in the food supply chain. That means Canada’s surveillance system is working because we found this animal and she never made it into the human food system. I think this really shows how far Canada has come since our initial outbreak in 2003. I wish that was the story the media told!

I have attached some links to some websites with factual information regarding what is happening with the BSE case found in Alberta. I challenge and encourage our followers to find real information to base opinions and judgments on.

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association BSE Update

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association webpage

Canada Food Inspection Agency

Real Agriculture


6 thoughts on “BSE Case, A Positive For The Canadian Beef Industry

  1. Buttons says:

    Oh that BSE word did indeed send a shiver down my spine when I heard it the news. My heart sank, I was frightened and I did not know if we could possibly handle a time like that time again. We barely made it through the “lean” years and lots of farmers I know did not survive those years. We held on and we are seeing better prices now and trying to catch up to the lost years and put them behind us. We are optimistic. When I heard they found it in testing it eased my mind.
    I am happy we have such a good ongoing checking system going on. I am no longer afraid of the word I trust our system. Good post. B

  2. Will says:

    Well said Erika. But unless a lot of Folks – read female grocery shoppers – read your blog, your version can’t compete with the sensationalist-focused Media spin. Have the ‘2 Erikas’ thought about approaching some of the major papers and selling them on a weekly column to illustrate the inside Rancher perspective…or even just running a copy of your Blogs? Especially on their digital editions.

  3. tstrande says:

    Erika and Erika – I am so proud of both of you for sharing your passion, expertise and experiences with the rest of the world. I concur with Will above, and having just recently read an article in the Country Guide Magazine relating to where farmers (ranchers) fit into the food trends, think he is on to something! According to David Sax, a business writer who writes about food, food trends and what to eat, getting the word out there about agriculture and its people, in media and more importantly to influential people via word of mouth is important. Maybe we should challenge each of your blog followers to send this link to a wider circle of people to read and thus become informed. I am going to send this link to the school and parents of the children who just attended a field trip on our ranch. I am going to support your amazing work in getting people exposed to the real life of ranching and all of its complexities, realities and joys!

  4. karl says:

    i totally understand your point and i can only speak for the german market but we had some very ugly experiences with the checking system. back in the early 90s a veterinarian made her discoveries about bse public and immediately lost her job. she was employed at the governmental office that examines all animals brought to the slaughterhouse. against her decision the suspicious animals were processed anyways and brought into the human food system. so the german consumer learned: awesome checking system, failed totally … i’m absolutely aware that these are all just single cases but many consumers lost trust in the whole system. because of the huge systems and the great anonymity between producer and end customer the latter doesn’t know who he can still trust.
    some german farmers started to break the system and grew their own direct marketing of their produce. however this might not work with the “normal” animals you can buy at any supermarket but they switched to very rare and high quality breed like wagyu, water buffalo and so on. now these farmers are selling their produce directly to private customers as well as restaurants. some teamed up with small, regional butchers if they cannot slaughter themselves. the customer base of these farmers is growing and growing and they can realize way higher prices than selling to “the big system” because people are willing to pay more if they know in turn where their beef comes from and who actually made it. don’t know if this kind of farming / ranching is also possible in canada. for sure it’s not easy at all, esp in the beginning but in the long run these farmes don’t give a f*** what media says / writes.

    • 2erikas says:

      We are selling about 15 to 20 provincially inspected animals per year to local people and restaurants. We are very happy to be able to this and hope to do more in the future.

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