If preparation is everything, an ongoing animal health program is on track to ready the Canadian livestock industry for a highly contagious disease outbreak.
The Animal Health Emergency Management (AHEM) project is “intended to enable Canada’s livestock industry to be a good partner with first response agencies in responding to a serious animal disease event,” says Matt Taylor, project manager for AHEM.
This isn’t the first time this concept has been used for animal disease outbreak planning; Taylor explains there were a number of provincial initiatives along these lines some years ago. Then, Agriculture Canada’s Growing Forward 2 funded a two-year planning program on a national scale before the present version was developed. Currently, AHEM is in its second year of a four-year initiative, with funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to the tune of $2.75 million.
AHEM’s work covers four main areas, the most visible being the development of resources and plans for livestock producers and industry associations to draw on in the event of a serious animal disease outbreak. For producers, this includes the creation of commodity and province-specific handbooks that outline everything they can do to prepare for and prevent the spread of a highly contagious disease, as well as how to respond to an outbreak in their area.
For provincial and national livestock associations, AHEM is working with these groups to create comprehensive plans that cover the key responsibilities of staff in responding to an outbreak. This includes their roles within an emergency operations centre and how to partner with the various government agencies involved to best represent their producers.
The second area of AHEM’s work is “to identify some specific protocols for industry in addressing some significant gaps in our policy,” says Taylor. One protocol they’re currently addressing is how to approach and implement a non-essential livestock movement ban. Another is the protocol for dealing with animals in transit when an outbreak occurs and where they are to go.
“It’s putting it down on paper, so in the moment it may not be exactly quite right for the needs of a specific situation, but it’s a place to start.”
The third area is building awareness for AHEM’s tools and plans. Presently, they’ve created two webinars, one of which targets “an industry association’s board of directors and senior executive to inform them how an emergency operations centre works,” including the use of the Incident Command or Management System.
“The second webinar we have is targeting producers, and it gives them a walk-through of a couple of scenarios to get people’s attention as to what this might look like, and then walk them through just a couple of pieces of our handbook so that they can feel more confident,” says Taylor.
AHEM’s fourth area is to provide additional training for veterinarians to better recognize and respond to a disease such as FMD.
“What we’ve heard from many of our veterinarians, private practitioners, is that they really want to help the industry in getting that diagnosis done right, but they’re concerned that they have not had training, in most cases, since they left vet school,” says Taylor.
Earlier this year, AHEM helped facilitate a course on FMD for 88 private practitioners, and they plan to run this training at least once a year for the rest of the project.
Although this work is designed for a serious animal disease outbreak, all the planning and resources are directly transferable to other emergencies that might affect livestock, such as wildfires, floods and earthquakes.
“We’re providing the thinking and the planning and the rules of the game. The game might play out a little differently than we plan,” says Taylor. “If people know their roles and responsibilities, they’ll be able to play a different opponent.”
For more on how the Canadian beef industry is preparing for a potential FMD outbreak, see the September 6 issue of Canadian Cattlemen.