Steps taken to mitigate disease emergencies

The livestock industry says there has been steady improvement in animal health emergency preparedness. | Wendy Dudley photo

Diseases and pandemics can and do happen swiftly and with limited warning. Recent history has confirmed this, along with hard lessons on appropriate response, communication and organization.

“The human pandemic we’re going through has taught all of us about the severity, emergence and spread of disease. It can have a profound effect and be tough to predict,” said Brady Stadnicki, manager of policy and programs with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“(A livestock) emergency can strike at any time, on any size or location of operation. It might be introduced through live animals, animal byproducts, people, other species or contaminated objects.”

Some diseases have the potential for rapid spread, but the evolving disease landscape constantly presents new challenges. Stadnicki said the key is to focus on early detection and action to minimize the economic, social and public health consequences along with the negative impacts on trade and animal health.

The Animal Health Emergency Management (AHEM) project is developing industry resources to minimize the impact of serious livestock disorders. It is a four-year initiative funded through Agriculture Canada with a goal to strengthen emergency response and recovery through awareness and education.

“We at the CCA are one key component by collaborating on an industry specific plan at a national level,” said Stadnicki. “The AHEM project is specifically focused on improving awareness, management, support and resources and we’ve been engaged in buying into that process as well.”

Information is being presented through handbooks, webinars and virtual town hall events.

The project involves responses for different animal species. Previously the group developed strategies at the provincial level and prepared handbooks to outline actions in a crisis. AHEM also offers training for veterinarians to better recognize and respond to different diseases.

For a cattle-related issue, “we would play a leading role and work together with the AHEM project, the tool we’re collaborating on,” said Stadnicki.

“I would say effective response requires many stakeholders to join forces. They would range from producers, industry organizations and different levels of governments, whether municipal, provincial or federal. Everyone has a role when addressing an issue, be it a disease or natural disaster.”

CCA and AHEM have worked to identify gaps in emergency response. Stadnicki said there has been steady improvement in the uptake of animal health emergency preparedness over time.

“At the CCA level, working directly with AHEM, we’re bringing together simulations and scenario drill activities, to work through protocols and responses, helping tighten gaps in policies. We’re trying to remain ready, vigilant and prepared.”

Foot-and-mouth disease preparedness has received special attention. The CCA has assessed the challenges and risks it would present to the Canadian economy and livestock industry. At the national level, it has been working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture Canada to have a centralized number of vaccine doses if FMD were to occur.

“Everyone working jointly to address emergencies as quickly as possible is key, said Stadnicki. “We need early detection to minimize consequences. … The natural progression of events would have producers initially contacting their veterinarians, looking for their assistance and expertise. Having that capacity enhanced so the industry has a diagnosis done right is crucial.”

Transmission of a livestock disease to humans is another consideration that requires collaboration with public health officials at all levels of government.

Stadnicki said this last year of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness about human diseases and viruses. In turn, it has opened more eyes and doors in the agricultural sector.

“The course of this pandemic has forced on us many lessons learned of how we organize ourselves and communicate internally, externally and with governments. It’s provided an example of what must go into responding to and being prepared for a crisis situation.”

He cited simulation exercises to test disease scenario responses as an example.

“While they’ll never mimic real life, they are important to test and tweak our response and approach. By practicing them, they will build experience in some capacity for being prepared should emergencies happen. We’ve been living it.”

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