The prospect of African swine fever is terrifying but the mood in Manitoba, Canada’s most export-reliant pork province, is resolute and optimistic.
“In the 30 years I was with the (federal agriculture) department, I never saw that level of co-operation and collaboration we’ve got going today,” said Canadian Pork Council executive director John Ross about recent ASF prevention and preparation work, speaking to reporters at the Manitoba Pork Council annual meeting.
Farmers and agriculture industries often have a contentious relationship with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which regulates and polices food safety, but praise for the federal agency at the MPC meeting was general.
“I think it’s been terrific,” said Claude Vielfaure, head of Manitoba company HyLife, which produces, slaughters and exports pigs and pork and has operations in a number of countries including Mexico, Japan and China.
“In these situations, obviously, you can always do more, you always want to do more … but the government and the CFIA have been fully on-side and fully working with our industry to try to do whatever they can to help us prevent it coming into North America and Canada.”
Ross said his office spends about 60 percent of its time these days dealing with the risk of ASF.
That includes working with the government on emergency measures to stop the disease from being imported into Canada.
Human sources have been targeted with increased airport vigilance on illegal food being brought into Canada in luggage and carry-on bags. Not only has money been provided for sniffer dog teams, which swine veterinary expert Egan Brockhoff said is the most effective manner of catching contraband meat, but people caught with banned products are now always hit with $1,300 fines rather than warnings.
Imported feed — seen as a likely key vector of the disease — has been controlled by the rapid imposition of secondary control zones, something that required federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau to be “innovative” with regulations.
“This was done quickly,” said Brockhoff.
“This is a massive win for the Canadian pork industry.”
While Canada imports little overseas feed, organic farmers often can’t find enough Canadian certified organic feed and turn to overseas sources that claim to be organic.
Now that feed must have licences to be moved inland from ports.
Feed companies too, Brockhoff said, are taking steps to ensure they don’t unknowingly transfer the disease.
Ross said work on zoning is the main focus for the industry. Zoning within Canada can keep any future outbreak limited within a certain region, and zoning arrangements with foreign markets can allow parts of the country to export even if one part of the country is cut off.
However, only the European Union and the United States have zoning agreements with Canada, so the government and the CPC are focusing on getting agreements with key markets such as Japan finalized, Ross said.
Canada is hosting an international ASF forum on April 30, something that will bring together experts, regulators and industry representatives to swap advice and develop contacts.
“It’s great to see Canada take the lead on this,” said Brockhoff.