AGRICULTURE

The lonely bull

A Quebecer takes on Ottawa over mad cow disease

DAN HAWALESHKA in Georgeville June 12 1995
AGRICULTURE

The lonely bull

A Quebecer takes on Ottawa over mad cow disease

DAN HAWALESHKA in Georgeville June 12 1995

The lonely bull

AGRICULTURE

A Quebecer takes on Ottawa over mad cow disease

Gordon Kohl forages in his refrigerator for something to feed his 2,000-lb. beast. Emerging with a head of cabbage, he marches out into the spring sunshine of Quebec’s Eastern Townships and greets his quarantined bull—Gille Buidhe. To look at Gille, one would never suspect that this colossal bovine may have mad cow disease, an insidious neurological disorder. Agriculture Canada officials want the shaggy stud killed.

And while a federal court judge has ruled against them, their appeal of that decision was to be heard in federal court in Montreal on June 7 and 8. Kohl, 76, who runs Swains Farms in Georgeville, about 120 km east of Montreal, is incensed. “My objective,” he says, “is to make it so that Agriculture Canada cannot abuse its authority.”

Mad cow disease—or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)—has killed more than 150,000 cattle in Britain since 1986 and continues to fell 400 a week. Canada responded by banning cattle imports from Britain in 1990 to protect its cattle-export market, worth $1.72 billion last year. But in late November, 1993, an Alberta rancher near Red Deer shot a cow after suspecting it had a broken leg. Because the animal had been imported from Britain in 1987, federal veterinarians dissected its brain, looking for

BSE. The verdict: North America’s lone madcow case to date.

The British epidemic was caused by cattle feed made—beginning in the winter of 19811982—with sheep carcasses contaminated with scrapie, a disease like BSE. Within two weeks of the Alberta diagnosis, Agriculture Minister Ralph Goodale ordered the death of the 175 cattle imported from Britain between 1982 and 1990. That included Gille, who came from Scotland in 1982. Kohl, a retired lawyer, challenged the order on the grounds that his bull never ate the contaminated feed. Last July, Federal Court Judge Max

Teitelbaum quashed the decision to destroy Gille, ruling that it was “patently unreasonable,” as was Ottawa’s contention that BSE could incubate for the life of the animal; British and American veterinarians say BSE incubates for at most eight years. Five other cattle owners also challenged the government, arguing that it had exceeded its jurisdiction under the Health of Animals Act. They lost, and were forced to kill their cattle or export them to Britain.

That leaves Kohl’s Gille as the last of the marked animals left in Canada. And it leaves Eric Broughton, acting chief of disease control at Agriculture Canada, adamant that the department will go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary to put Gille down. And “if we lose the destruction order,” he says, “we still haven’t lost the quarantine order”—a reference to the agency’s power to isolate potentially diseased animals. Ben Thorlakson, animalis health committee chairman of the g Canadian Cattlemen’s Association in

1 Calgary, supports that position.

2 “Canada has the highest health sta% tus of any major beef-producing I country in the world,” he says, z “Given that we export 40 per cent of Q our production, we’re very sensitive

to anything that would be viewed as compromising that status.”

Kohl is standing firm. His bull remains healthy, if lonely—Gille sometimes growls at a younger stud who has the company of cows. And Kohl wants to market Gille’s offspring and store the bull’s semen in a gene bank. “If there was any reasonable suggestion that my bull should constitute a risk,” says Kohl, “by God, he’d go down with my blessing.” Blessing or no, Agriculture Canada remains uncowed.

DAN HAWALESHKA in Georgeville