The West Hawk Lake Zoning Initiative (WHL) slipped into fourth gear in December with the start of round-the-clock monitoring of livestock traffic from west to east and vice versa.
Zoning is a proactive disease management plan approved by the OIE, the World Health organization for animals. It’s a way of locking a country into health zones to reduce the areas of concern when an infectious disease invades. OIE rules require the collection of accurate tracking information on all animals that cross a control point between regional zones. This data accounts for an animal’s movement during the incubation period of the disease so officials can quickly contain an outbreak in the zone where it originated. Then they can concentrate all their attention on eliminating infected animals in just that one region.
The concept has been shown to save money, and more importantly, time. Zoning also gives Canadian trade negotiators a strong argument for regaining normal trade in the disease-free zone.
Before all that can be done you must first find a natural choke point between the regions. That suits the West Hawk Lake site to a tee. The lake and nearby community are located in Whiteshell Provincial Park on the Manitoba side of the Manitoba-Ontario border. It’s a heavily forested area with little farming activity that sits astride the Trans Canada Highway at a point where it is the only thoroughfare between east and west. The WHL trailer sits a few steps away from the established weigh scale on the highway.
The initiative is managed by the Canadian Animal Health Coalition and overseen by an industry led Canadian Zoning Committee (CZC). The current and long-time chair is Betty Green, a beef producer from Fisher Branch, Man. In December they hired Leanna Rousell of Asquith, Sask., as a field associate to help create some awareness of the initiative among livestock producers.
Green says the data collected by the WHL would be used only in the event of a highly contagious foreign disease outbreak. The top threat, of course, is foot-and-mouth disease, which spreads rapidly in cattle and pigs and has a very short incubation period.
Green’s passion for the project stems from her experience a number of years ago when she became mixed up in a TB traceback by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) after some of their animals that sold through an auction market might have been commingled with infected animals. “In the end, because of a small number of animals, the CFIA had to test hundreds of herds and thousands of animals. When I saw the binder of places they had to visit, I thought there had to be a better way,” she says. “I believe zoning is the right way to go because the time will come when we will have to deal with a foreign animal disease. The better we are prepared, the more likely we are to survive.”
Significant progress has been made during the first three phases of the project. The first phase took it from the conceptual stage and feasibility study to gaining support from industry and government. Phase two involved negotiating memorandums of understanding for information sharing, obtaining authority for data collection and developing a database within the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS). Testing the idea came next on a small and large scale with participation by shippers and verifying animal identifi cation at the other end by receivers. Phase four is implementation by a trained staff.
“Now, as Canada moves toward full traceability we will still need the capacity to shut down movement in order to shut down the transfer of disease and put resources into the area where the disease is found,” says Green. The goal, she says, is to have zoning recognized as a component of livestock traceability in Canada.
A control point
Rousell says every effort has been taken to ensure the WHL does not impede the normal trade. Many livestock transporters already are required to stop at the weigh scale. The sur- vey itself takes only five minutes to fill in. The WHL office is open 24-7 year round and they request all livestock transporters — commercial carriers and farm trailers — stop in whether or not the weigh scale is open.
No one inspects the load. Transporters need only confirm the information on their permits; the number and type of animals they are hauling, where they came from, their destination, their route and stops along that route for the purpose of identifying locations where commingling may have occurred in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak. A list of the radio-frequency identification numbers on the animals in transit would be helpful, but it’s not required at this point in time.
Shippers generate their own permits on the CLTS website and email, fax or phone (toll-free) the information to the WHL prior to departure or send it with the transporter.
“We want the process to be as user-friendly as possible,” says Rousell. “If you provide information to the best of your knowledge and circumstances change, for example, if you have more or fewer animals on the load, or there is a delay along the way, just call the control site and the staff will adjust the permit.”
The receiver is expected to verify the load and premise through the WHL site of the CLTS database or by calling, emailing or faxing the control site after the cattle arrive.
Rousell is well suited to her new role. She grew up on a mixed farm and took a vet-tech course before working at feedlots, cow-calf operations and the Saskatoon Livestock Sales auction. At home she has horses and custom grazes cattle.
“What tweaked my interest in the zoning project is the health and welfare aspect. It just makes sense when you think about the number of animals that could be saved if a disease could be stopped from spreading — not only the animals saved from getting the disease, but those spared from quarantine and possible culling by the CFIA in the trace-out process. It could save animals, money and a lot of stress on people.”
She is concentrating on the beef sector because cattle constitute the bulk of the livestock they see and they are often commingled many times throughout their lives. Her work involves visiting cow-calf operations, feedlots and auction markets to familiarize people with the concept of zoning and how to report to the WHL control site, however, she welcomes enquiries from any type of livestock operation.
Half of the $4 million budget is from the federal Growing Forward program with the remainder as monetary and in-kind support from industry Funding is assured through 2013 when a review of the business plan will determine how the control site will be financed going forward. Activities are already underway to explore how the WHL zoning model can be transferred to other areas of Canada to further reduce the impact of a foreign animal diseases when they strike.
For information contact the WHL control site at 1-877-966-3945 or email [email protected]