Ottawa says it has no choice but to require hog trucks to be washed in the United States, but producers aren’t convinced
Western Canadian hog producer groups say the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is more intent on obeying the letter of the law than on keeping a deadly swine disease from contaminating farms.
As of May 2, the CFIA began enforcing regulations that require hog transport trucks returning to Canada to wash on the U.S. side of the border.
The enforcement replaces an emergency protocol that the CFIA put in place in February 2014, when the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus began infecting and killing millions of piglets in the U.S.
The emergency protocol allowed trucks to be washed in Canada where facilities are certified to eradicate PED.
Producer groups, swine veterinarians and the chief provincial veterinarians in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all want the protocol continued.
“The CFIA (is) using a rather antiquated piece of legislation,” Alberta Pork executive director Darcy Fitzgerald said May 3.
“It’s not serving us very well. We’ve got a process in place, or we did up until yesterday, really. We did have a process in place that was amended … that allowed us to wash in Canada.”
Trucks washed in the United States must now be washed again in Canada because U.S. facilities may carry the virus and spread it on trucks through recycled water or less-than-stringent protocols.
“We know that there are standards here because we inspect for it,” Manitoba Pork general manager Andrew Dickson said about Canadian commercial truck washes for hog transporters.
“Some of the wash stations (in the U.S.) use recycled water, so if you do go to a station, now you’ve got to worry if it uses recycled water. If it does, then you’re probably going to contaminate the inside of that trailer.”
PED is considered endemic in the U.S., and Dickson estimates half of all American hog barns have it. In contrast, there have been only five cases of PED on premises in Western Canada and all have been eradicated.
Millions of dollars have been spent on establishing biosecurity plans and protocols in Canada over the last two years to keep PED out. Fitzgerald and Dickson say biosecurity at U.S. truck washes is a concern.
“We have no idea what the U.S. stations do, so what we’re saying is it introduces an element of risk that we don’t need to do,” said Dickson.
“Our sow herd in Western Canada is naive for this disease, and if we get it, it’s going to be really bad. Yes, we should be able to keep the disease off our farms if we follow the protocols, but we don’t need to introduce extra risk.”
Ontario has had more than 85 cases of PED and continues to battle the virus. Dickson said some of the problem in that province was caused by cross-border contamination, and Western Canada wants to avoid the same scenario.
“We’re asking the federal minister of agriculture to intervene and use his good offices to try and figure out a solution, and we think there are maybe some ways of doing this that will help us achieve the objective of keeping this disease out,” said Dickson.
“When we know something’s working, can we not figure out an answer to this thing?”
Fitzgerald said an amendment or rewrite of the pertinent legislation is needed, but as it stands, CFIA said it is obligated to enforce the regulations as they are written.
“Really, it’s like, ‘we don’t care if we bring the disease into Canada, as long as we follow the rules,’ ” Fitzgerald said about the CFIA enforcement.
“We’ve spent millions in the last year and a half, getting people into biosecurity mode, and then the federal government just turns it around and says it’s not an issue anymore so don’t worry about it.”
Dickson said 70,000 pigs are trucked into the U.S. from Canada every week, which results in a lot of truck traffic and risk that PED virus will catch a ride back to Canada if trucks and trailers are not properly cleaned.
“It’s not just the loss of the baby pig, and that’s terrible in its own right,” Dickson said.
“But it’s the loss through the whole system. That baby pig no longer becomes a pig on a finisher barn. That finisher barn doesn’t have the sales to the processing plant. The processing plant doesn’t have enough pigs coming in, and in Western Canada, most of our processing plants are short on pigs.
“We don’t need another challenge to our processing side. And then we lose exports. Most of our stuff is exported out, so that is less cash coming in.”