FMD emergency response study needed: consultant

If Canada had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a plan is needed
to handle issues around quarantine, depopulation and vaccinations

OTTAWA — The fear of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak lingers in Canada.

“It will hit us hard if and when we have a major outbreak,” said Matt Taylor, a private consultant commissioned to evaluate the potential impact of the disease for the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.

“Outbreaks do happen even in countries that are free of FMD,” he said at an animal health committee meeting at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting in Ottawa March 7-10.

The disease could directly affect sheep, hogs and cattle. It requires quarantines and orders to stop movement of animals, but it could take the Canadian Food Inspection Agency five to seven days to enforce that.

By that point, the disease could be moving faster than authorities’ ability to contain it.

Taylor’s study identified foot-and-mouth disease as the Canadian industry’s greatest vulnerability and found key gaps in emergency planning.

A study is needed to identify gaps and develop plans to manage the livestock sector for 12 to 18 months if such a disaster strikes, he said.

High density areas like feedlot alley in southern Alberta, the Fraser Valley dairy region in British Columbia and the isowean barns in Manitoba’s hog sector could be devastated.

The industry would have to decide how to handle vaccination or how mass depopulation would happen. He questioned how a feedlot with 15,000 to 20,000 head would be destroyed and how the cattle would be valued for compensation.

CFIA has plans and Agriculture Canada is starting to develop a framework for such an emergency. Industry also has to have its own plan because it owns the animals. All involved would need to be in constant communication.

“For us to work in a vacuum and not know what they have planned is a concern,” said Pat Hayes, chair of the animal health committee.

A Canadian Animal Health Coalition study from 2002 looked at this country’s vulnerability in the beef, dairy and pork sectors.

Costs could span from $13 billion to $50 billion in disease control and impacts to the primary and processing sectors. Additional losses would be incurred in the tourism industry and lost trade opportunities.

In 2003, Canada discovered its first case of BSE, which closed borders to trade and devastated the cattle industry with long-term impacts.

A University of Lethbridge study estimated losses to the Canadian industry between May 2003 and May 2005 were about $4 billion.

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