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World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) BSE Risk Categorization

The international framework for recognizing the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) risk status of countries has continuously evolved. It has done so in response to advancements in the understanding of the disease and to the demonstrated effectiveness of measures over time.

The present categorization system is designed to reflect the current knowledge and understanding of BSE and to recognize the effectiveness of investments countries have made to mitigate the spread and eventually eradicate the disease.

The categories are "negligible risk," "controlled risk," and "undetermined risk."

In applications for BSE risk categorization, countries must demonstrate compliance with the provisions of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH; founded as Office International des Épizooties (OIE)) Terrestrial Animal Health Code-in particular, as they apply in the following areas:

  • policies designed to protect animal and human health are based on an appropriate assessment of risk,
  • BSE awareness, education and reporting programs have been implemented,
  • an appropriate ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban is in place,
  • there is diagnostic competency within the laboratory system, and,
  • BSE surveillance has been conducted in accordance with the WOAH's BSE guidelines.

Under the WOAH criteria, a country can be categorized as negligible risk if it can demonstrate that it meets WOAH standards in the areas listed above, and:

  • it has never had a case of classical BSE in a domestic animal, or,
  • any infected domestic animals were born more than 11 years ago.

Canada was categorized as a country with a controlled risk for BSE until May 2021 because, while it has demonstrated that it meets the WOAH standards, it has had BSE cases in domestic animals born in the previous 11 years.

Countries that are not able to demonstrate they meet, or have not been assessed against, the requirements for negligible risk or controlled risk are placed in the undetermined category.

To determine a country's BSE risk status, the following steps are taken:

  1. The country's submissions and supporting evidence are reviewed by a team of international subject matter experts.
  2. Based on their evaluation, a recommendation is made to the Scientific Commission for Animal Diseases.
  3. The Commission reviews the recommendation.
  4. If accepted and endorsed, it is proposed that the country be recognized as either negligible risk or controlled risk.
  5. The proposal is then circulated to the delegates of all WOAH member countries.
  6. Member countries have 60 days to register an objection in writing with supporting scientific or technical evidence.
  7. Official recognition is achieved through adoption of a resolution by the International Committee during the annual General Session of the WOAH, held each May.

In May 2021, Canada was officially recognized by the WOAH with a negligible risk for BSE.

All countries or zones recognized with an official WOAH BSE risk status (either negligible or controlled) must:

  • notify the WOAH in writing during the month of November of each year that the epidemiological situation with respect to BSE has remained unchanged, and
  • document their continued observance of WOAH standards.

Failure to comply provides grounds for the WOAH to revoke the given status.