Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy - What to expect if your farm is under investigation


This brochure provides Canadian cattle producers with information about what happens when a bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) investigation is conducted on their farm.

About BSE

BSE is a non-contagious, fatal disease of cattle. It is associated with an abnormal protein called a prion. The most likely way cattle become infected is by eating contaminated feed during their first year of life. The disease is normally seen in animals between four and seven years of age. Noticeable signs of illness are usually only visible two to six months before the animal dies.

There is no treatment or vaccine for the disease, and there is no test currently available to diagnose BSE in live animals. BSE can only be confirmed by testing a dead animal's brain. A series of BSE tests are usually administered—a preliminary screening test identifies the potential presence of BSE and is followed by a confirmatory test.

In Canada, BSE is a "federally reportable disease." This means that producers, veterinarians and laboratories must notify the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of all suspected cases. In general, all cattle over 24 months of age should be reported if they show at least three of the following signs:

  • lack of coordination or difficulty while turning or rising from a lying position;
  • trembling;
  • increased sensitivity to touch, sounds or light;
  • nervous, aggressive or apprehensive behaviour;
  • abnormal head position;
  • hesitation at doors, gates or barriers; or
  • loss of body weight, condition and reduced milk production, despite continued appetite.

BSE testing

BSE tests are conducted on animals that are down, diseased, dying or exhibiting at least three of the above signs. Because there is currently no test available to diagnose BSE in live animals, suspect animals are euthanized in a humane manner and brain samples are sent to a CFIA laboratory for testing.

BSE disease control

The CFIA takes immediate disease control actions when test results indicate that an animal may be or is infected with BSE. The steps involved in BSE disease control normally include:

  • precautionary quarantine;
  • investigation (animal, farm, feed sources);
  • quarantine;
  • destruction and disposal; and
  • compensation.

Precautionary quarantine

When a preliminary screening test indicates that an animal may be infected with BSE, a CFIA official (usually the district veterinarian) visits the farm where the dead animal was found. The official will meet with you and place the animal's carcass under a precautionary quarantine. The precautionary quarantine is required so that the carcass is not moved while further tests are completed. No restrictions are placed on the movement of other animals, animal semen, embryos, or milk from the farm.

The CFIA official issues documentation outlining the rules of the precautionary quarantine, discusses your responsibilities, and answers any questions you may have. The official may also take further samples from the carcass.

If BSE is ruled out by subsequent tests, the precautionary quarantine is lifted, and no further actions are taken.


If BSE is confirmed, the CFIA begins an investigation to examine the infected animal's background and identify any animals that may have been exposed to the same source of contamination as the BSE-infected animal. The purpose of the investigation is to:

  • identify the birth farm and other farms on which the infected animal lived;
  • examine feeds the animal may have eaten during its first year of life;
  • locate all cattle born 12 months before and after the birth of the BSE-infected animal on the birth farmFootnote 1; and
  • locate all cattle that may have consumed the same feed as the BSE-infected animal during its first year of lifeFootnote 1.

To help CFIA staff in their investigation, you may be asked to provide the following:

  • veterinary records and laboratory reports;
  • a detailed description of farm management practices;
  • records of purchase/sale of animals and feed;
  • animal birth records, including parentage and identification;
  • animal slaughter records;
  • dead animal and carcass disposal records;
  • animal movement records (CCIA tags, brand manifests, shipping receipts); and
  • contact information for the farm veterinarian.

Your cooperation and that of any other parties involved is critical to the success of the investigation.


All animals that may have been exposed to the same source of contamination as the BSE-infected animal will be placed under quarantine. Quarantines may also be applied to feed that is potentially contaminated with BSE. No restrictions are placed on the movement of animals, animal semen, embryos, or milk from the farm.


The CFIA orders all animals that may have been exposed to the same source of contamination as the BSE-infected animal to be controlled or to be humanely destroyed.

In certain cases, such as maintaining animals for genetic purposes, destruction may be delayed. In these situations, animals must remain under quarantine until their ultimate destruction and disposal. You must identify each of these animals with an easily-visible, permanent identifier approved by the CFIA. While these animals are under quarantine, you must regularly examine them and report any changes in their health status to the CFIA.


The CFIA disposes of carcasses and all potentially contaminated feed by incineration or deep burial in an authorized landfill. On-farm burial is also possible but must comply with provincial and municipal waste management requirements.


Under the Health of Animals Act, the CFIA may compensate owners of cattle operations for animals ordered destroyed during disease response situations. Compensation awards are based on market value, up to the maximum amounts established by the regulations.

For more details on the compensation process, please see the brochure Animal Health Compensation: What to expect when an animal is ordered destroyed.


As directed by the Privacy Act and other federal statues, the CFIA is required to protect private information collected. Any information provided by you during a disease response situation is treated as confidential, unless otherwise indicated.

More information about BSE

For more information on Canada's approach to controlling and eradicating BSE, call the CFIA at 1-800-442-2342 / TTY 1-800-465-7735 or visit