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Canada court allows "mad cow" class action suit

[JURIST] The Superior Court of Quebec [official website] has ruled that some 20,000 cattle breeders can proceed with their class action lawsuit [CTV report] against the federal government of Canada for its handling of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) [USDA backgrounder, PDF], otherwise known as "mad cow" disease [CBC backgrounder]. The suit, which could eventually include over 100,000 farmers, alleges that the Canadian government was negligent by allowing cattle infected with BSE to be imported from the UK, and subsequently failing to inform the public or the cattle industry. The lawsuit is the first class action against the government over mad cow disease, which first appeared in Canada in May 2003.

In 1997, the Canadian government implemented regulations prohibiting the feeding of cattle with feed made from cattle body parts. The regulations, however, were not heavily enforced and violators were not required to pay fines before July 2005. The outbreak of BSE, first identified in 1996 in the UK and linked to the deadly Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) [CDC backgrounder], has encouraged cattle-producing states in the European Union and large importers like Japan to institute strict regulations concerning the feeding, slaughter, and testing of cattle. In May, the US Agriculture Department (USDA) [official website] announced it will appeal a ruling by a federal judge that a meatpacking company must be allowed to test all its cattle [AP report], which the USDA opposes. The USDA currently tests less than 1 percent of all slaughtered cattle in the United States, and the White House has fought to prohibit the sale of BSE testing kits and the implementation of private comprehensive testing standards arguing that false positives can hurt the cattle industry. AFP has more.

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