Canadian Judge Grants Water Buffalo Reprieve

DUNCAN, British Columbia, Canada, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - A Canadian farming family ordered to get rid of their water buffalo herd for fear of mad cow disease have been granted a reprieve.

In a judicial review decided upon yesterday, Justice Denis Pelletier set aside the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) order that Darrel and Anthea Archer's herd be removed from Canada or destroyed.

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Anthea Archer with one of her water buffaloes. (Photo courtesy http://www.savethewaterbuffalo.com)
Pelletier concluded that the CFIA had not adequately consulted with the Vancouver island couple when it served notice on October 5, 2000 based upon "mere suspicion" that the water buffalo may be contaminated with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.

Citizens must have input into decisions made by the government agency when those decisions negatively impact their livelihood, said Pelletier.

But the Archers, who invested their life savings to import 19 water buffalo from Bulgaria, via Denmark last January, are not celebrating yet.

Wednesday's decision is open to appeal by the CFIA. The agency has already faxed the Archers' Fairburn Farm home in Duncan, just north of the British Columbia capital Victoria, reminding the couple that the herd, which now numbers 34, must remain in quarantine.

The CFIA, which did not return ENS calls, has 30 days in which to appeal.

"We feel that this is a moral victory that will benefit all citizens, as well as farmers, whose business is jeopardized by government regulations imposed arbitrarily for the 'public good' without full consideration of all the facts," said the Archers in a statement.

"We have received phone calls from people who have been dealt with in a similar manner by government, many of whom faced financial ruin."

BSE is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of cattle. When it occurs in humans it is known as Creutzfelt-Jakob disease. Scientists believe that the United Kingdom's BSE epidemic was caused by feeding cattle meat and bone meal supplements that had become contaminated with the disease agent.

This occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and established the infection in cattle. It was then magnified by the practice of feeding of rendered material from slaughtered cattle back to other cattle.

Despite no recorded cases of the disease in water buffalo, and only one Canadian case in a cow imported from the UK 13 years ago, the CFIA ordered the Archers to remove their herd from Canada.

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Fairburn Farm dates back to the mid-1880s and has been in Darrel Archer's family since 1955. (Photo courtesy Fairburn Farm)
The order followed a dairy cow becoming infected with BSE last February in Denmark, where the Archers had purchased their water buffalo a month before. This was enough to trigger the Canadian government's zero risk policy on BSE.

Despite clearing risk assessments in Denmark and being given a clean bill of health by Canadian government veterinarians, the water buffalo were imported in contravention of Canada's Health of Animals Act, according to the agency.

The Archers mortgaged their 120 year old farm, negotiated months of red tape and invested C$200,000 (US$132,388) to purchase the herd, from which they planned to produce milk and mozzarella cheese.

The family cleared their C$20,000 (US$13,238) legal bill with Vancouver law firm Roberts & Baker last month, using donations from concerned residents and interest groups.