Co-ordinated animal disease response sought

The devastating foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that rocked Saskatchewan in 1952 left a lasting legacy in this country.  |  File photo

The National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council is working with government and industry representatives

The catastrophic consequences of a potential foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Canada terrify the livestock industry.

Different sectors have already experienced the impact of foreign animal diseases like BSE, avian influenza, porcine epidemic diarrhea and bovine tuberculosis, said veterinarian Megan Bergman, head of the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council.

“We are in a situation in Canada where we are continuously faced with disease challenges,” she told the animal health committee of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, which met at the Aug. 13-16 Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary.

“We are fortunate in that we are in a country with excellent capacity for animal health and disease response but our responses tend to be a bit fragmented,” she said.

The council hopes to change this. It has pulled together government and industry representatives to develop a more co-ordinated animal disease emergency response to trace a disease, recover and reopen markets.

The council was formed as an advisory body to work with federal and provincial governments, as well as industry representatives to build a plan before a crisis strikes.

It is attempting to identify the gaps in current response plans and better integrate all services and expertise in the event of a serious disease outbreak.

Surveillance is under way but there is no cohesive system to share information or work effectively together.

A national forum on the threat of African swine fever showed gaps and risks in the system. One of the gaps is whether there are enough people available to deal with a fast-moving contagion like ASF, which has devastated the Chinese swine industry.

The federal and provincial governments have legal requirements they must follow, but clear cost-sharing models, mandates and responsibilities are needed.

“We have gaps, we want to be more engaged and we want to be more effective in our animal disease response,” she said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has plans to deal with diseases but the livestock industry wants to be a full partner to make plans for animal health and disease responses because farmers dealing with animals bear the cost.

“This is not going to be a small shift. What we need is a culture shift in how we handle animal health issues in Canada,” Bergman said.

The cattlemen’s association supports the approach and wants a fast response that includes enlisting local veterinarians.

“When we have one of these things, we need every hand on deck. They are out there already on the ground in many areas,” said rancher Pat Hayes.

The CFIA has a veterinary reserve and if local practitioners are called up, they may need specialized training to deal with an emergency.

“We want to see things put in place now so when this happens we are not doing the scramble. We see them as a resource that could help greatly,” said Hayes, who co-chairs the cattlemen’s animal health committee that has pushed for using local vets.

“Our CFIA does not have enough people on the ground and we need to get some protocols in place.

“Look at the (tuberculosis) case in Alberta. That time frame could have been shortened if they had utilized them, but they are a department that is on their own,” he said.

Time is of the essence. Rapid diagnosis and plans are needed to prevent delays in containing a disease, said Eugene Janzen of the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine.

“If we had a three-week delay (in disease containment) in feedlot alley in Alberta you wouldn’t have to worry about zoning because by then we would likely have contaminated the western United States,” he said.

CFIA officials agree they need help.

“CFIA cannot do it alone. We will always be looking for support from our provincial partners from industry and certainly all the preparedness work we have done on African swine fever has shown us how important this is,” said Dr. Debbie Barr of the agency’s animal health, welfare and biosecurity division.

Early detection of any disease is a key and the agency is trying to enhance field staff training.

The CFIA approach to an emergency works on a day-by-day framework.

If a foreign animal disease is found in Canada, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is informed and in some cases, certain trading partners will be told before any public announcements are made.

“There needs to be a recognition that borders will close and markets will close on day one regardless of any predetermined arrangements,” she told the health committee meeting.

If there was a suspected case of foot-and-mouth disease, the CFIA would move into action before confirmation was received.

It then works to prevent further infection, quarantine, eradicate and contain the disease with a goal to open markets as soon as possible. Some outbreaks could cause border closure for months rather than weeks.

Different types of mechanisms can be used depending on the outbreak and what measures are considered necessary.

Zoning to contain a disease is an accepted OIE approach but some countries are reluctant to adopt it. Zoning is not just about boundaries but what is done once zones are set up. CFIA’s current policy is to make zones as small as possible to contain the disease to a geographic area.

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