ASF prompts new look at West Hawk Lake

The checkpoint on the Ontario-Manitoba border could be a way to divide the country into zones in the case of an outbreak

In 2013, the livestock checkpoint at West Hawk Lake closed down for good.

The checkpoint was located near the Ontario-Manitoba border on the Trans-Canada Highway and operated for about six years.

Supporters of the project are wondering if it should be re-opened so that Canada’s livestock industry can deal with a foreign animal disease such as African swine fever.

“It was a pilot project to demonstrate the effectiveness … and basically proving we could zone the country into two (regions),” said Mark Beaven, executive director of the Canadian Animal Health Coalition, one of the groups behind the project.

“West Hawk Lake (acted) as a traceability point.… It was proven that it was definitely doable.”

Right now, Canada’s hog industry is dedicating many hours to the topic of zoning and African swine fever. The disease isn’t in Canada, but the virus is spreading through pig herds in China, Vietnam and much of Eastern Europe.

Poland, for example, has had dozens of cases of ASF, and its pork industry has divided the country into geographic zones, where the disease is present or free from the virus.

Some livestock experts believe Canada should create geographic zones before a foreign animal disease arrives so that it can demonstrate to its trading partners that livestock production on the Prairies is separate from production in Quebec and Ontario.

“We have a natural bottleneck in regards to livestock transport and … that is at the Manitoba-Ontario border,” Beaven said.

“Essentially there is only one road.”

A 2013 report on West Hawk Lake by the Canadian Animal Health Coalition described the checkpoint as an “insurance policy.”

In the event of a disease outbreak, having data on livestock movement through West Hawk Lake would reduce response times.

“Substantial economic losses could be avoided if an effective animal tracking system is implemented prior to a (foreign animal disease),” the report said.

“If trace-out time could be reduced because of animal tracking from four days to two days, then $78,000 to $2.4 billion could be saved.”

If ASF did arrive, there could be a freeze on pork exports, and the economic losses for Canada’s hog industry could be in the billions.

However, if Manitoba and Alberta could continue to export pork following the detection of ASF in Quebec, it would lessen the economic damage.

Funding for West Hawk Lake ran out and the checkpoint, basically a trailer at the Manitoba government weigh station, formally closed in the summer of 2013.

Beaven didn’t say it should be re-opened. Rather, it should be looked at again.

“Maybe we should do a cost-benefit analysis of continual operation of the facility,” he said.

“But we definitely proved (in the pilot project) that there is definite benefit to having it there.”

One key question, however, is whether other countries would recognize West Hawk Lake and two zones in Canada before an outbreak of ASF.

As well, there’s the issue of zone size. If ASF popped up in Alberta, would it be wise to declare all of Western Canada as a zone with the disease?

John Ross, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council, isn’t convinced that zoning prior to an outbreak is a good idea.

“If it (a foreign animal disease) is in a very isolated region of Canada … and you’ve split the country in two, you’ve eliminated an awful lot of country for not much point,” he said.

“One of the reasons we have traceability is that we can perhaps get these zones identified a lot faster … and be a lot smarter about doing it.”

It might be possible to have a “surgical’ zone,” which truly represents where the disease is present.

“If you create zones that are too big, then you have to manage them as you go along.”

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