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Protecting Canada’s herd is everybody’s business

As the media reports the precautions taken by the European Union to prevent the spread of avian influenza, it seems like a good time to remind producers there are measures we can take to ensure Canada’s animals stay healthy.

At the time of writing, authorities in the Netherlands had banned farmers from keeping poultry outside in an effort to stem the spread of avian flu. This demonstrates the biosecurity measures taken by some countries to prevent foreign animal disease outbreaks.

At the federal level, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is mandated to set and implement policies to keep foreign animal diseases out of the country. Provincial governments support the effort by providing education and surveillance programming and, in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak, support the CFIA control eradication effort.

At the local level, our best defense against the spread of disease is to prevent it in the first place. There is not much we can do to stop migratory waterfowl from bringing infection to Canada but we can do things to prevent the introduction of diseases affecting cattle. It is a matter of thinking ahead: avoid unnecessary risk and maintain good practices on your farm, ranch or feedlot.

In this era of world travel, it is pretty easy to visit a farm in an infected area overseas and be back on your own farm within a day or two. It is in this way that some foreign animal diseases might find their way into the Canadian animal population. The simplest and best way to prevent the spread of disease is to practice good biosecurity. An added benefit of good biosecurity is that it helps maintain the health of your herd. The spread of all diseases, not just the foreign and dangerous ones, can be limited or even stopped. In other words, biosecurity is also good business.

Most producers know the basics but periodic reminders are definitely in order:

  • Quarantine new or ill stock. It is a nuisance but it might be the most important thing you do.

Limit access

  • Put a sign on your front gate asking all visitors to report to you before going near your stock (this alerts all visitors, including commercial/service people).
  • Think twice before allowing visitors direct contact.
  • Inquire if visitors have been on other farms recently, if they have brought any foreign food products with them and if their footwear has been cleaned.
  • Provide visitors with clean boots.
  • Ask if visitors have been overseas within the last two weeks (if so, take extra precautions: clean clothes/footwear, no contact with animals, etc.).

Visiting other producers or auction markets

  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect footwear between each visit.
  • Or have a separate set of shoes for visiting other farms or auction markets (but clean them between visits!).
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling animals.
  • Avoid contact with manure or direct contact with animals.
  • If you have direct contact, take extra clothing to change into before getting back into your vehicle.
  • If you take gear, either use disposable supplies, or clean thoroughly after use.
  • You can seal gear in plastic until you are able to clean it.
  • Tires and wheel wells can carry infection. If you drive through your neighbor’s pasture, clean up before you go – and before you go home.
  • If you are sharing a trailer with your neighbours, clean it thoroughly between uses.

Early detection

  • If you see something that doesn’t look right, call your vet.
  • Participate in provincial surveillance programs.

If all producers practice good biosecurity, Canada’s cattle herd stands a good chance of avoiding nasty outbreaks. But if an outbreak occurs, you can be confident that federal and provincial governments are developing plans and protocols to deal with foreign animal disease emergencies. These plans are challenging to create because of the wide variety of scenarios that could occur. A single case found in a remote area demands a different response than, say, a national outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. In any case, the CFIA is the legally mandated lead. The role of provincial government agencies is to support the CFIA effort. Your role is prevention by practicing good biosecurity.

The cattle industry has suffered from the BSE crisis but an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would be much worse. If everybody does their part, it is not likely to happen.

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