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Truckers vital to foot-and-mouth doomsday plan

RED DEER, Alta. - A recent simulation indicates that a North American outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could erupt from a single Texas pig farm and spread as far north as Red Deer, Alta., and Guelph...

SHUTDOWN: It could all depend on truckers.
SHUTDOWN: It could all depend on truckers.

RED DEER, Alta. – A recent simulation indicates that a North American outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could erupt from a single Texas pig farm and spread as far north as Red Deer, Alta., and Guelph, Ont., in fewer than four days.

The mock-outbreak, run by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and other experts, hopefully served as a wake-up call in light of the catastrophic foot-and-mouth infection rampaging through European farms.

The most recent rash of cases has resulted in the deaths of nearly one million hogs, sheep and cattle in Europe, crippling the economy and causing logistical nightmares for the entire transportation industry.

The CFIA says that should the disease show up domestically, truckers would be instrumental in containing the problem.

One of the easiest ways for the disease to spread is by truck, so the government agency has Canadian livestock haulers on high alert.

“We’re not a country where there are foot baths for trucks coming on and off a farm,” says Dr. Claude Lavigne, CFIA deputy director of animal health. “We haven’t felt the need so far for things like that, but in some countries every farm has a pool that trucks go through before they go into the farm.”

The highly infectious viral disease is spread through airborne particles, as well as by vehicles, machinery or people coming into contact with an infected animal. The virus can survive for 14 days on a clean truck, and up to several months on a truck containing bedding and organic waste.

Lavigne says it’s more important than ever for truckers to maintain accurate, detailed records of their loads.

“We could use that information to do our investigation and catch possibly infected animals before they really develop the disease,” explains Lavigne. “The new cattle identification program is going to help because cattle will not be able to leave the farm without being individually identified, but we will need to also have good information from the trucking companies.”

If a case of foot-and-mouth disease is suspected on board a truck, the CFIA has a number of contingency plans in place.

“We have strategies, we have procedures, we have veterinarians at the agency who are specially trained to recognize the disease and to react quickly,” says Lavigne.

Dr. Annelies Wiersma is a veterinarian with the CFIA in Lethbridge, Alta. She says a truck containing an infected animal will have to be quarantined before it can be used again.

“First you would have to get all the manure out and it would have to be burned and I’m sure (the truck) would have to be quarantined for a while,” says Wiersma. In Alberta, truckers are taking the threat very seriously. In fact, there is a movement underway by truckers that would see them voluntarily halt their operations should an outbreak occur.

“The trucking industry is talking about having a voluntary cease-movement in the interim between when the diagnosis is suspected, and when it’s made, when the government would order a stoppage of movement,” says Alberta’s chief veterinarian, Gerald Ollis. “If you had a suspected outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Alberta, truckers, by biting the bullet and not moving anything for that two, three or four days it takes to confirm the diagnosis, would play a major role in limiting the size of the outbreak in the first place.”

Matt Taylor, secretariat of the Canadian Animal Health Coalition has been working with truckers to organize the cease-movement.

“The longer you wait to shut down movement, the broader the spread of the disease geographically,” says Taylor. “Our hope would be that we could get a 75, 80, maybe even a 90 per cent effective shutdown the next day and that would save us billions.”

Taylor admits the voluntary cease-movement is not without risks, and a false alarm could cost industry millions of dollars.

“If it has been triggered and the lab result comes back the next day and there’s nothing wrong, then we’ve been overly cautious. We’ve aired on the side of safety and we’ve probably cost, overall throughout the industry, a couple of million bucks” says Taylor. “But if we don’t have something like this in place, we run the risk of losing $30 billion,” he adds, noting that would be the cost of a year-long shutdown.

Some of the symptoms to watch out for include limping on all four legs, ignoring feed, drooling at the mouth and lying down and refusing to get up. Haulers are also advised to always keep their trailers clean.

“If they were serious about foot-and-mouth (they would get the trailer) rinsed with a solution of either virakon, or simply a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water,” says Ollis. n

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