Checking that special box: important to admit to farm visit

BANFF, Alta. — The statement and the yes/no box on the Canada Border Services Agency form stares up at travellers entering or re-entering Canada: “I/we have visited a farm and will be going to a farm in Canada.”

If the answer is yes, check the box, says swine veterinarian Dr. Chris Byra, who manages the Canada West Swine Health Intelligence Network.

Lying could subject the livestock industry to disease issues with devastating consequences.

Byra said he knows that people think answering yes will delay their passage through customs or subject them to additional questioning. That attitude is a problem.

“Nobody feels really obligated there, and a lot of our foreign visitors similarly think they can get away with (it),” he said during a talk at the Banff Pork Seminar.

He thinks Canada should develop a more forceful message and possibly attach fines for lying about farm visits.

The incoming passenger forms for the United States and Australia are similar to Canada’s, and neither country lists fines for failure to answer the farm question truthfully.

Travellers to the United States are asked if they have “visited a farm/ranch/pasture outside the United States.”

Australia’s incoming passenger card asks if travellers have “been in contact with farms, farm animals, wilderness areas or fresh-water streams/lakes etc., in the past 30 days.”

Canada’s customs form additionally asks about possessing any “meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, plants, flowers, wood, animals birds, insects and any parts, products or byproducts of any of the foregoing.”

The U.S. and Australia have similar lists of goods that might be prohibited or restricted.

History shows livestock diseases can travel with people and on soil, feed and food.

A study by the consulting group Serecon estimated that an outbreak of highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease in Canada, for example, could cost the country at least $58 billion.

Quentin Stevick, a former Pincher Creek, Alta., area rancher who has visited most cattle-producing countries in the world, said he is a stickler for answering yes to the farm question.

“I am very upset with people that lie and come back to Canada from other countries and lie about where they’ve been, the places they’ve been,” said Stevick.

“I think the penalties should be a lot higher because I know of people personally who have done that and they risk all of us.”

He agreed that people may think an affirmative answer will mean a longer wait in customs, but he said he welcomes the extra scrutiny.

“I personally have seen more diseases than probably most Canadian veterinarians,” he said about his observations in other countries.

Because of that, he never brings home the clothes he wears in foreign countries.

Dr. Reynold Bergen, science director for the Beef Cattle Re-search Council, said he answers the question truthfully but has been intrigued by the fact that an affirmative answer often doesn’t result in additional questions from border agency officials.

In an email, Bergen offered this advice to livestock producers who travel internationally: “Talk to your vet before you go. Tell them your plans and ask for advice; they may tell you what diseases to be concerned about and what to do about it.

“They may suggest avoiding some countries/regions, wearing plastic booties or packing old clothes and leaving them behind. Maybe plan your farm visits near the start of the trip to give yourself more time for more showers, etc., before you return home.”

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