Commentary: The devastating legacy of Canada's Mad Cow Crisis

May 26, 2023

The Mad Cow Crisis started 20 years ago this week. For most Canadians, May 20, 2003, means little. But for the beef industry, the situation was nothing less than dreadful. It brought devastation, bankruptcies, and broken families. It was a nightmare.

On May 20, 2003, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency declared that a black Angus cow originating from northern Alberta had been detected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow disease. In response, the United States promptly imposed a ban on Canadian beef and cattle imports, leading to approximately 40 other nations taking similar measures.

Mad cow disease is a fatal illness that gradually deteriorates cattle’s brain and spinal cord. Although humans cannot contract mad cow disease, there is a rare possibility of developing a human variant called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which is also fatal. Over time, vCJD causes degeneration of the brain and spinal cord. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 500 Americans die every year exhibiting symptoms that match those of the disease. An autopsy is required to properly diagnose the disease.

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