New Zealand authorities strengthen protection for human and animal health

Joint media release:

New Zealand Food Safety Authority
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

21 May 2003

New Zealand authorities today moved to further protect public and animal health following news that a cow in Canada had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Tim Knox, New Zealand Food Safety Authority Director, said today "In light of this latest news, we are reviewing the measures that currently apply to beef products imported from Canada to ensure that public health protection is maintained."

"We have today put a hold on any consignments of beef products arriving from Canada until such time as we have further information regarding the situation there. Imports of beef and beef products from Canada have occurred sporadically, but it is not a significant trade."

In addition, MAF's Biosecurity Authority has stopped any importation of live cattle, llamas and alpacas and other ruminant material from Canada such as serum and inedible by-products. This is in addition to the already stringent measures New Zealand has in place to protect our animal populations.

"New Zealand is free of all transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) of animals, such as BSE. New Zealand has not imported any live cattle from Canada since 1997. Those cattle that we have imported from Canada are today being traced and checked," said Carolyn Hini, Acting Director Animal Biosecurity.

Dairy products, cattle semen and embryos do not transmit BSE and are not affected.

New Zealand does not allow the importation of meat and bone meal from ruminants from all countries. New Zealand also has an extensive surveillance programme in place to confirm our ongoing freedom from BSE and other related diseases.

The stringent measures required by New Zealand for imports of beef and beef products for human consumption were developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Health (the function has now gone to NZFSA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

"We have full confidence in the competence of the Canadian authorities to investigate the circumstances of this case of BSE and to move immediately to take whatever action is required."

"Protecting New Zealand public and animal health is top priority for both agencies and the measures we have introduced today will provide further health assurance for New Zealand consumers and our primary production sector" said Tim Knox.

For more information contact Tim Knox on 021 403990 or Sharon Williams, Senior Communications Advisor, NZFSA 04 463 2528 or 021 1936405 or

Carolyn Hini, Acting Director Animal Biosecurity, 04 4702780 or 021 888 623 or Philippa White, Communications Advisor, MAF Biosecurity Authority, 027 2231875 or 04 498 9948

Questions and Answer Sheet

What has happened in Canada?

The provincial government in Alberta, Canada tested a cow that had been condemned at slaughter because it was not suitable for human consumption. The cow was not showing any signs of BSE at the time of slaughter. They notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and preliminary findings of tests could not rule out BSE. It has since been confirmed that the cow had BSE. The Canadians have said that no food entered the food chain. Canada is still investigating where the cow had come from.

The last time a case of BSE was detected in Canada was in 1993. In that case the cow had been imported from the UK. It died of BSE. The carcass and the herd it had come from were destroyed. The federal government put additional measures in place at the time to deal with any risk that Canadian cattle might have been affected.

When was New Zealand informed of this?

New Zealand officials were informed early on Wednesday 21 May and has moved quickly to deal with this.

What beef products are imported from Canada?

No beef and very few beef products have been imported from Canada. Customs data shows that New Zealand has imported approximately 100 tonnes of beef fat tallow oil and 250 tonnes of shortening, which may contain beef fat, over the past 18 months. The shortening is used in cooking. Beef fat tallow oil is normally used for cosmetics, soap, candles and other such non-food products. Given the very low levels of residual protein that are likely to be present in these products, the fact that the volumes imported are very small, and the fact that there are about 15 million cattle in Canada, NZFSA believes that any possibility of contamination of these products with the BSE agent is negligible.

Has New Zealand imported live cattle from Canada?

Over the last seven years 17 Canadian cattle have been imported into New Zealand. Three import permits have been issued during that time covering the importation of one animal in 1994, which has since been culled, and 16 cattle in 1999, of which 14 are still alive. These cattle have been ear tagged and were last inspected in July 2002. They will continue to be monitored as part of MAF's tracking scheme for imported ruminants outlined in the Biosecurity (Imported Animals, Embryos and Semen) Regulations 1999. MAF will continue to trace any possible Canadian imports as far back as 1989. This is twice the length of time required under international standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

What measures do you have in place to protect New Zealanders from BSE?

New Zealand has stringent measures in place to protect New Zealanders from BSE. These measures apply to the importation of beef and beef products for human consumption. These measures vary depending on the risk and BSE history associated with the exporting country. They include a ban on feeding ruminant proteins such as meat and bonemeal to ruminants, removal of risk materials (such as the spinal cord) at slaughter, surveillance, animal identification and traceability.

What ruminant import health standards have been affected by this?

MAF's Biosecurity Authority has withdrawn import health standards for live cattle, llamas and alpacas and affected ruminant material such as serum and inedible by-products. Semen and embryos don't transmit BSE and trade can continue in these products.

Have you imposed a trading ban on Canada?

No, but we are reviewing our standards. We have however put a temporary hold on any consignments of beef products on the way from Canada until we have further information.

Australia and America have banned Canadian products why haven't you?

New Zealand has developed a transparent and rules based system and we are applying that process in this instance. We have put a temporary hold on any consignments of beef products on the way from Canada until we have further information. This is consistent with the measures applied by the United States.

What is BSE?

BSE is one of a group of brain wasting diseases (known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs) that occurs in adult cattle. It was was first identified in Britain in 1986. The disease has an incubation period of 3-5 years. Brain cells develop holes resulting in the loss of control of limbs, trembling, wide-eyed staring, swaying of the head, and erratic behaviour including charging, hence the term 'mad cow disease'.

Have we ever had a case of BSE in New Zealand?

No. New Zealand is internationally recognized as free from BSE. BSE has never been reported or recorded in New Zealand. Since 1990, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has undertaken active surveillance for scrapie, BSE and chronic wasting disease in deer.

What surveillance do you do?

New Zealand has an extensive testing programme in place for TSEs and tests more than 3000 brain samples a year.

Where did BSE originate? There are several theories as to the origin of BSE. A common one is that scrapie jumped the species barrier through feeding meat and bone meal made from sheep infected with scrapie. The disease was then spread, through the UK cattle population, by feeding meat and bone meal to cattle from infected ruminant sources including meal made from cattle infected with BSE. The other mainstream theory of the origin of BSE is that it arose spontaneously in cattle, much as sporadic Creutzfeldt Jakob disease is believed to arise in humans.



Last Updated: 01 October 2010

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