Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of cattle. It is not a contagious disease and cannot be transmitted through animal-to-animal contact – nor are BSE prions present in milk or dairy products. Research indicates the major risk factor for the spread of BSE is through cattle consuming feed products derived from BSE-infected cattle and contaminated with BSE prions.
Canada has implemented precautions to prevent the spread of BSE and protect public health, including making it a federally reportable disease. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) continually assesses international scientific information as it becomes available, and modifies its BSE policies as required.
In Alberta BSE is a provincially regulated disease, reportable to the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian. Find out more about this fatal disease of cattle.
About the program
In 2004, the CFIA announced enhanced targets for BSE testing in Canada: 8,000 cattle prior to 2004, increasing to 30,000 tested annually. Later that year, the CFIA partnered with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) to initiate the Canada and Alberta BSE Surveillance Program (CABSESP). This program would increase the number of high-risk Alberta cattle tested for BSE as part of Canada's BSE surveillance initiative.
The CABSESP tests cattle from 30 months of age and older that meet the program conditions. Eligible cattle are assessed on-farm by a certified veterinarian based on a clinical examination, history and producer records. See information on cattle and producer eligibility.
The program also provides reimbursements to producers to help cover the cost associated with holding a carcass pending a test result, and to veterinarians for delivery of professional services.
Only veterinarians that are certified by the CABSESP can examine the animal and assess the animal for eligibility. The primary reference document for certified veterinarians is the Manual for Interpretation and Guidelines for Certified Veterinarians produced by the CABSESP.
The CFIA announced that Canada required increased testing for BSE in order to meet national and international animal health standards. This was to demonstrate effectiveness of the array of BSE control measures and guarantee market access for our cattle and meat products in international markets.
The CFIA and Alberta government jointly announced the creation of CABSESP which focuses on surveillance categories for cattle at higher-risk of being affected by BSE. This program rapidly became the pillar for BSE surveillance in Alberta.
After an extensive program review and to accommodate international requirements, new program conditions came into effect clearly defining the eligibility of cattle. The CABSESP also created a Veterinary Certification Program to improve the knowledge and understanding of veterinarians in the program, and implement a consistent eligibility approach among Alberta veterinarians. The number of compliance issues and audits of veterinarians fell dramatically after these changes.
The CABSESP started sampling a small number of animals in rendering facilities in collaboration with CFIA inspectors. This would supplement the more extensive on-farm sampling already being done.
Veterinary Certification Program
The CABSESP requires that an on-farm clinical examination be performed on live animals and a post-mortem be conducted on all dead animals before eligible samples are collected. These tasks require veterinary involvement. As a result, only veterinarians that are certified by the CABSESP can examine the animal and assess the animal, herd and producer for eligibility.
To maintain consistent and clear standards within the veterinary community, in 2008 the CFIA and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry created a certification program for Alberta licensed veterinarians. The certification program trains veterinarians in the current CABSESP eligibility criteria, and on how to consistently implement the rules and regulations in different situations.
In addition, the CABSESP partnership with University of Calgary-School of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) provide an on-campus pre-certification session for 3rd-year veterinary students. In this session, students attend the classroom component and wet lab. When students graduate and receive a registration number from the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, they can apply directly to the CABSESP to request full certification.
- Veterinarians currently participating in the CABSESP: 397
- Veterinary clinics participating in CABSESP: 150
- Total veterinarians certified since 2008: 679
What the certification sessions cover
- general information on BSE and its global implications
- the OIE point system
- description of the program and conditions for on-farm implementation
- the veterinarian's roles and responsibilities as described in the Manual for Certified Veterinarians
- AF pathologists conduct a wet lab demonstrating sample collection, identification and delivery
- discussion of different case scenarios
The primary reference document for certified veterinarians is the CABSESP Manual for Interpretation and Guidelines for Certified Veterinarians.
Certified veterinarians should keep copies of the manual’s ‘Schedule B: Program Conditions’ in their trucks, making them available to producers so they can read the Program Conditions before signing the CABSESP Registration Form.
How to register
Annual certification sessions are scheduled for Alberta licensed veterinarians who wish to be certified.
To apply for the next session, download, complete and return the CABSESP Registration Form (PDF, 78 KB).
Next certification session: Spring 2022
Updates are provided each time a change is implemented to the program. Veterinarians are required to attend recertification updates via teleconference or webinar to retain their certification status. This ensures certified veterinarians are current on the latest version of the program conditions. In the absence of program changes CABSESP certificates are automatically renewed.
Agriculture and Forestry conducts regular audits and verification on producers and veterinarians to confirm or find more information on certain cases.
How CABSESP works
Producers who have cattle older than 30 months that meet the eligibility criteria are encouraged to contact their closest CABSESP-certified veterinarian.
- Contact your herd veterinarian, or the nearest CABSESP certified veterinarian, if you identify a bovine over 30 months of age that could be eligible for the BSE surveillance program.
- Provide complete information at the time of sampling to reduce delays or cancellation of applications or payments.
- Collaborate with your veterinarian to verify the animal’s age, history and other relevant information.
- If you are not frequently present on-farm, provide written authorization to one or more people who are frequently there, in order to sign on your behalf.
- Sign the completed submission form.
- Maintain all tags affixed to each carcass to accurately identify them.
- Secure and hold carcasses, preventing scavenging, until confirmed negative testing results are obtained.
- Appropriately dispose of carcasses according to provincial and municipal regulations.
For more information, see Livestock Mortality Management (Disposal).
- Producers who submit samples are to complete and submit form CFIA/ACIA 5692 - Recipient Electronic Payment Registration Request (Direct Deposit) directly to the CFIA, to prevent payment processing delays. Direct deposit forms only need to be completed once and do not need to be completed again if direct deposit information has not changed.
The program is carried out across the province by a network of CABSESP-certified veterinarians licensed in Alberta.
These certified veterinarians:
- visit the farm on the producer's request
- perform a clinical examination on live animals
- perform a postmortem on dead cases
- determine the eligibility of the animal for the program
- complete the submission form, including:
- clinical information
- the producer’s signature
- if the animal is eligible, collect the brainstem and deliver it along with the appropriate form to one of the following labs:
- CFIA-Lethbridge laboratory – for farms located south of Innisfail
- AF-Edmonton laboratory – for farms located north of Innisfail
Timing of submission
Samples should be collected and delivered as soon as possible to ensure sample integrity, and to allow for timely carcass disposal (producers have to hold the carcass pending test results).
The accumulation of samples for more than 2 days in the spring–summer–fall seasons – or 7 days in the winter – should be avoided.
Getting the results
The veterinarian is responsible for communicating the laboratory results to the producer within 24 hours of receiving them, to allow for proper carcass disposal.
The program offers reimbursements to:
- Producers – $75 per animal for holding the carcass pending test results, and for proper carcass disposal
- Veterinarians – reimbursements for delivery of professional services
An eligible applicant is an Alberta taxpayer having lawful possession of the animal and providing adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care (if required) to the animal. The applicant is not eligible if they are under investigation for animal welfare issues, or has used the carcass for human or animal food.
Cattle are eligible to be tested under the CABSESP if they meet all of the following criteria:
- are located in the province of Alberta
- are legally possessed by Alberta farmers
- are 30 months or older (age must be verified by credible records or dentition)
- fit within any of the 5 clinical risk categories associated with BSE (see below)
Eligible clinical risk categories
The following are 5 clinical risk categories that may be associated with BSE and are accepted for the CABSESP:
Animal that is 30 months or older exhibiting abnormalities that a veterinarian could directly attribute to a central nervous system (CNS) in at least one of the following categories:
- locomotion (weakness, ataxia, change in gait, abnormal head carriage, and circling)
- sensation (hypersensitivity, kicking, head shyness, and blindness)
- mentation (apprehension, nervousness, aggressiveness, teeth grinding, and change in behaviour)
Animal that is 30 months or older that would likely be deemed unfit for human consumption and/or transportation, that exhibit and/or have a history of a chronic and progressive disturbance in at least one of the following: locomotion, sensation, or mentation; has not, or is not likely to respond to treatment and the disease not been directly attributed to a CNS abnormality by a veterinarian.
Animal that is 30 months or older and is acutely ill or injured presented for on farm emergency slaughter. Must be examined by a veterinarian before euthanasia.
Animal that is 30 months or older and is down or disabled and not likely to respond to therapy, and is unable to get up and/or walk without assistance.
Animal that is 30 months or older and is found dead.
Common conditions as eligibility determinants
The following table lists some examples of common conditions presented to veterinarians, and information about whether or not they qualify under the CABSESP.
Table 1. Common conditions that determine eligibility
|Condition||Criteria for Eligibility|
|Post-surgical death||Cattle are eligible if they qualify within any of the 5 clinical risk categories.|
|Obstetrical conditions and calving injuries leading to sick, downer or dead animals:
||These conditions are eligible providing they qualify within any of the 5 clinical risk categories.|
||Might be eligible depending on the history and clinical signs as per the certified veterinarian assessment.|
||Individual cases coming from herds that have not been previously recognized with this condition are eligible.
When an animal is not affected by the herd condition but has signs suggesting BSE, it is eligible.
Cattle are not eligible to be tested through the program if:
- they are affected by starvation or malnutrition due to neglect or mismanagement
- they are the subject of an animal welfare investigation
- they were euthanized directly by the owner without allowing a previous assessment by a certified veterinarian
- they are affected by an ongoing/untreated herd condition not related to welfare
- when a larger than usual number of otherwise healthy animals die in a short period of time by accidental, nutritional, toxic or infectious causes; this includes (but is not limited to):
- disease outbreak
- transport or barn accidents
Animal owners and veterinarians must report suspected rabies cases to Alberta’s Public Health Veterinarian at 1-844-427-6847 who will provide instructions for sample collection and delivery.
For more information, see Rabies information for veterinary clinics.
A BSE suspect is defined by the CFIA as a bovine of 24 months of age or older exhibiting at least 3 clinical signs of BSE. Given that BSE is also federally reportable, these must be referred to a CFIA District Veterinarian.
Certified veterinarians must fill in a Non-Submission form and send it back to the CABSESP to be reimbursed for the farm visit and mileage.
- Only the intact brainstem can be submitted.
- The sample must not be decomposed or damaged by euthanasia or the collection process.
Connect with the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian:
Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)
After business hours: 1-800-524-0051
O.S. Longman Building
6909 116 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T6H 4P2
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