RED DEER — BSE transformed Canadian agriculture when it was first found in this country in 2003, but the industry has faced other disasters since.
Diseases such as H1N1 in hogs, avian influenza and catastrophic weather disasters all take a toll, so industry and government are developing plans to handle the next event through the livestock market interruption strategy.
Market disruptions and natural disasters require direct action and a common sense response when they occur.
“The public policy objective is to demonstrate there is a problem, and the industry has the responsibility to show it has done everything possible to deal with the problem,” said Bob Burden of Serecon Management.
It is not business as usual during a crisis, and people need to think about how they might survive if their farm is quarantined or if borders were suddenly closed because of a disease like foot-and-mouth.
“You as an industry needs to be prepared,” said Brad Andres, who works with Alberta Agriculture and was involved in emergency management during the Slave Lake and Fort McMurray wildfires.
Getting in touch with people and monitoring movement are among the greater challenges on Alberta’s 45,000 registered farms. Livestock moves from farms to auctions, feedlots and processors every day.
“The interconnectedness and with farms getting larger, we find they are moving animals more often,” he told the annual meeting of the Alberta Agricultural Economists Association, which was held in Red Deer April 27-28.
“An auction market is ground zero for a multiple disaster. Any disease that comes in on one cow is probably spread to every animal in that market.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency steps in in the event of a major reportable disease and assigns a team to confirm it. It generally assumes the disease is present until proven otherwise.
“The tendency is to err on the side of caution,” he said.
There may not be enough veterinarians to do the work of testing and diagnosis in the case of a big outbreak.
The logistics of destroying animals is daunting because of the large numbers to be handled and then finding a way to dispose of the dead to avoid land and soil contamination.
The current government policy is to manage the disease rather than the market impact.
The direct costs associated primarily with disease control and eradication are a fraction of the losses caused by market interruptions. There is a $5 to $10 loss in the marketplace for every dollar lost due to disease, said Andres.
Any border closure longer than two weeks causes an immediate backlog, especially for hogs.
Healthy animals outside a quarantined area may need to be de-populated because they have reached market weight and there is no place to house them.
Decisions need to be made about sending animals fit for human consumption for processing and who is willing to take them. As well, the domestic market cannot handle a large supply, so more cold storage is needed.
International markets would be closed a minimum of 12 months in the case of foot-and-mouth disease, but in reality it would be up to two years to get back into business.
All borders immediately closed to Canada when BSE was discovered, resulting in more than $4 billion in losses. Full market access is still not available.
The current investigation into bovine tuberculosis in southeastern Alberta continues, and estimated losses are difficult to calculate.
About $36 million in compensation for animals ordered destroyed and $3 million through Agri-Recovery has been paid.
A major issue for the more than 50 farms involved was holding cattle when they did not have feed or holding space.
“The lesson out of TB for our producers is you have to be ready for a stoppage. It could happen to you,” Andres said.