WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada said on Thursday that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) had improved the country's international risk status for mad cow disease, potentially opening new export markets.
The first confirmed Canadian case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was detected on an Alberta cattle farm in 2003, resulting in some 40 export markets closing to the country's beef. Many have long since reopened.
BSE risk status is a factor in countries determining from which markets they buy beef. The improvement to "negligible risk," the OIE's most preferred status, from "controlled risk," bolsters Canada's efforts to gain access to new export markets, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement.
BSE is a progressive, fatal neurological disease believed to be spread when cattle eat protein rendered from the brains and spines of infected cattle or sheep. Canada, the world's seventh-largest beef exporter, banned that practice in 1997.
The cattle industry is "breathing a major sigh of relief" as its new status puts Canada on equal footing with trade competitor the United States, said industry group Beef Farmers of Ontario.
Canada applied to the OIE for upgraded status in 2020 and had to demonstrate that any infected domestic animals were born more than 11 years earlier, Beef Farmers of Ontario said.
Canada's last confirmed case of BSE was in 2015, in a cow born in 2009.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Peter Cooney)