Analytical reasoning Spring 2018

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” 
    So, how would Sherlock Holmes apply that theory to the massive bovine tuberculosis (TB) investigation that has been conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)?
    The case is certainly irregular enough to interest the fictional Baker Street detective. It began in September 2016 when one cow from Brad Osadczuk’s herd near Jenner, Alberta, was diagnosed in an American slaughterhouse with bovine TB.
    Another five animals in the farmer’s herd also carried the disease. But that strain of bovine TB had never been detected in Canadian domestic livestock. Or in wildlife. Or in humans. The CFIA said it was “closely related to one found in cattle in central Mexico in 1997.” 
    The agency worked diligently to trace the source of the bovine TB. It quarantined and tested at least 30,000 head of cattle in three western provinces that might have had contact with the infected herd. About 11,500 animals were euthanized, including 1,250 from Osadczuk’s operation.
    Farmers paid an onerous price during the investigation. Some had losses estimated at between $15,000 and $30,000 a day. And because the animals couldn’t be sold, there was no money coming in to buy feed. 
    There was compensation – the federal government provided $39 million to those whose herds were depopulated. And a Canada-Alberta program allocated up to $16.7 million to help with the “extraordinary” quarantine costs.
    What would intrigue Holmes is that despite all the tests – including some on more than 1,200 elk that had been harvested near the Jenner area – only the original six cattle showed any evidence of the disease. The CFIA could not determine how the one herd became infected or why the disease had not spread. 
    A Canadian Cattlemen article reported that “there had been isolated reports” of the same bovine TB strain in the United States. 
    Country Guide wrote about speculation that a bird ingested the disease in Mexico and excreted it on a herd in southeastern Alberta.
    But Holmes would likely suggest that the CFIA turn its information over to another agency and ask it to look for a contagion on two legs not four. He would contend that someone sauntered along a pasture fence and stopped to admire the cattle. Then offered them a treat and a pat on the head.
    This spring, once the final laboratory culture test results are completed, the CFIA investigation will be officially closed.
    In February, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay praised “the cooperation of individual producers and their industry associations” and the “key role” they played in the investigation “that allowed Canada to retain its bovine TB free status with no disruption in access to international markets.”