Canada Orders Removal of Water Buffalo After Mad Cow Scare

By Neville Judd

DUNCAN, British Columbia, Canada, September 28, 2000 (ENS) - A Vancouver Island farming family is fighting an order by government food inspectors to destroy its 27 water buffalo because of fears the herd has bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease.

water buffalo

Compared with other domestic livestock, the water buffalo is known to be less vulnerable to bovine diseases. (Photo by Christine Budke)
BSE is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of cattle. When it occurs in humans it is known as Creutzfelt-Jakob disease. The disease occurs worldwide, but how it is spread from person to person is still unknown.

It has a high media profile because United Kingdom scientists suggest that a new form of Creutzfelt-Jakob disease may be caused by human exposure to BSE.

Scientists believe that the United Kingdom's BSE epidemic was caused by feeding cattle meat and bone meal supplements that had inadvertently 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 Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered Anthea and Darrel Archer to remove their herd from Canada by September 15, a deadline later extended to October 13. If the herd cannot be removed they must be destroyed at the Archers' expense, said the agency.

The order follows a dairy cow becoming infected with BSE in 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.

farm

Fairburn Farm dates back to the mid-1880s and has been in Darrel Archer's family since 1955. The Archers stand to lose their farm unless CFIA changes its mind. (Photo courtesy Fairburn Farm)
The Archers have applied for judicial review of the order but the federal court in Vancouver is unlikely to hear the case until late October, after the October 13 deadline.

"We've sought judicial review to try and get to the bottom of this because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency isn't telling us anything," Anthea Archer told ENS. "It's not as though, we're suing them, we just want some answers."

The family has asked the agency to delay the deadline so the judicial review can take place but has not heard back. The agency was tight lipped when asked about the case by ENS.

"Christ, we can't talk about that," said agency spokesman Dr. Don Olson, citing orders from CFIA lawyers. "Sorry, I can't say anything while it's before the courts."

The Archers spent months negotiating Canadian and European red tape before being given a permit to import 19 water buffalo to their historic Fairburn Farm, near Duncan, just north of B.C.'s provincial capital Victoria. The animals are originally from Bulgaria and were shipped in quarantine to Denmark in 1997 where they were inspected by veterinarians and approved for export by the CFIA.

"We run a bed and breakfast but we wanted to be self sufficient and planned to start producing milk and mozzarella cheese from the buffalo," said Anthea Archer. "We mortgaged the farm to pay for them and have invested about $200,000 so far. This is our life and it's being destroyed for no good reason."

water buffalo

There has never been a documented case of water buffalo contracting BSE, according to the Institute of Zoology in Monterotundo, Italy, the Office International des Epizooties, Paris, and the Food and Animal Organization in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Christine Budke)
The Archers have enlisted the support of farming organizations like the Island Farmers Alliance, which has sent letters to government ministers on the issue. They are also investigating the possibility of flying the herd back to Denmark before October 13, which would spark a new battery of tests by CFIA to show the animals are free of North American disease such as Blue Tongue.

"There's no guarantee Denmark would taken them back, but it would be at our expense," said Archer.

Oblivious to the fuss, the water buffalo continue to graze happily on the Archers' farm where instead of closing the bed and breakfast this winter, the family will continue to take guests in order to pay off their mounting bills.