Industry wants new animal health approach

It’s hoped the formation of Animal Health Canada will reduce the risks that deadly diseases could enter the country

OTTAWA — If foot-and-mouth disease or avian influenza attacks Canadian livestock, there is a specific response plan to address it.

That’s not the case for African swine fever (ASF) or any other deadly livestock disease that might threaten the livestock industry.

Stakeholders in the animal health and livestock industry have long understood this gap in preparedness.

Now a coalition of stakeholders is working to develop a new organization, Animal Health Canada, which will involve government and industry in co-operative animal health risk management.

Rory McAlpine, Maple Leaf’s senior vice-president for government and industry relations, said ASF is just the latest example of disease threats that could face the industry, and the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency is not the only entity responsible for contingency planning, disease management and cleanup.

“As we stand and talk here today, there is no hazard specific plan for African Swine Fever in CFIA. And frankly, as I’ve said, shame on us as industry for allowing a situation where this major deadly disease has been in the world for 30-plus years. It is now suddenly accelerating and spreading in China, in Europe, in Africa, and here’s Canada without a hazard specific plan in place.”

McAlpine said governments have difficulty committing resources to pre-empt such events, but business does it all the time.

“We have to bring that sort of business competence and business model to the way we manage these things.”

He views Animal Health Canada as a concept involving government and industry in making decisions, sharing resources and generally creating a new model for risk management.

Leaders from at least 13 different livestock agencies, councils and food processing companies are aligned in a plan to develop the new paradigm, according to Greg Douglas, Maple Leaf’s vice-president of animal care and a former chief veterinarian for Ontario and Saskatchewan.

They want to prepare a proposal for consideration by federal, provincial and territorial ministers in July for possible implementation of Animal Health Canada by July 2020.

“Ultimately it’s about putting together a governance structure that is nimble and fulfills the expectations of our stakeholders, and our stakeholders aren’t just government. They’re people, the population, consumers, customers,” Douglas said during the recent forum of the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council.

He said Canada has a good infrastructure for dealing with livestock risk management but it will take initiative to develop a partnership.

McAlpine said it can be a “Team Canada” approach.

“We’re very good at collaborating and finding ways to connect in this big complicated country. But let’s not just do it when there’s a crisis. Let’s do it when we’re trying to prevent crisis.”

Dr. Deb Stark, a former chief veterinary officer for Ontario and a former deputy minister of agriculture in that province, said Animal Health Canada has potential to shake things up.

“What’s more important? That we all move together, or that we are constantly innovating and improving? And I think Animal Health Canada is trying … to say we may not all be able to move together on this one but we’re going to be continually innovating and improving.”

McAlpine said the concept is not designed to undermine federal authority and credibility when it comes to animal health risk management. As a trading nation in animal products, that can’t be compromised.

However, Animal Health Canada will involve stakeholders that can move quickly and invest in things like biosecurity or emergency planning or developing a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank, for example.

“We don’t need more resources and more structure and more boards and more meetings and more committees. That is absolutely the problem,” said McAlpine.

“We’ve got too many. We need to rationalize the power and grant some autonomy and hopefully get governments to be prepared to take a bit of risk in sharing some authority, sharing some program responsibilities into this kind of entity.”

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