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Work continues on foot-and-mouth action plan

EDMONTON, Alta. - In November, 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) took part in a tripartite simulation of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease with its counterparts in the U.S. and Mexi...


VITAL ROLE: Livestock haulers will be instrumental in containing the disease, should an outbreak occur.
VITAL ROLE: Livestock haulers will be instrumental in containing the disease, should an outbreak occur.

EDMONTON, Alta. – In November, 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) took part in a tripartite simulation of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease with its counterparts in the U.S. and Mexico.

It was abundantly clear following the exercise that Canada wasn’t prepared for such an outbreak. The following year, when foot-and-mouth disease plagued the United Kingdom, the sense of urgency to develop an action plan was further hammered home and since that time there’s been plenty of work done in Alberta to develop a comprehensive contingency plan. While the final details are still being hammered out, one thing is clear – livestock truckers will play a big role in putting such a plan into action and helping stop the spread of the disease.

Dr. Gerald Ollis, Alberta’s chief veterinarian, took part in the original simulation, and he says it was a real eye-opener.

“That was a very sobering experience for some of us that participated in it,” says Ollis. “We realized the plan that we had modified needed more work.”

The plan Ollis refers to is the Foreign Animal Disease Eradication Support (FADES) plan, an arrangement between the federal and provincial governments that outlines what steps each government would take to control an outbreak of a highly-infectious disease such as foot-and-mouth. It was already being revised at the time of the simulation, but it was back to the drawing board following the demonstration.

Ollis says the plan has come a long way over the past few years, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

“We’ve got a much more comprehensive plan that deals with many more issues, but what it doesn’t have is the details of how we’re actually going to do it,” says Ollis.

That’s bad news for livestock truckers. It’s expected that if a case of foot-and-mouth is identified, the first step would be to put a cease-movement on all livestock shipments. But just how that would be enforced remains to be seen.

“There’s a long list of activities that we don’t really have a good idea of how it’s going to happen,” says Ollis. “For example, a cease-movement – how the hell would you really do it?”

Several provincial ministries are each in the process of developing their own contingency plans. What seems to be lacking is a mechanism by which to communicate those action plans to individuals on the front lines, such as livestock haulers.

“Truckers are going to be key to this,” says Ollis. “We have to have some way to find out who we notify and how they would get the message out to their members in the event of a cease-movement.”

Other questions remain as well. For instance, if a cease-movement is put into place, just what is the trucker expected to do with his load? It certainly won’t be welcomed at any feedlot or abattoir.

“You have these animals on your truck and you’re on your way, how would you deal with that? Because as soon as the abattoirs find out there’s a sniff of foot-and-mouth, they’ll just shut down,” says Ollis. “Our international markets are closed immediately even if there’s a suspected case of foot-and-mouth. Our markets would be closed until we could verify that we didn’t have it.”

Fortunately, new technology has reduced the time it takes to test an animal for the disease from several days to within one day.

“The confirmation process has the potential of being relatively short. There’s some rapid tests now being done at the National Center for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg that provide a same-day response,” says Ollis.

That’s encouraging news, since even a suspected case would cause huge backlogs of livestock shipments and have a lasting impact on Western Canada’s economy. About 70 per cent of Alberta’s beef is exported, and Ollis says “Any livestock export market would be closed immediately.”

While there’s still no comprehensive plan in place, Ollis insists much progress has been made. Alberta Agriculture expects to have its contingency plan finalized by late June, and it’s hoped other ministries will have theirs done by that time as well. There are tentative plans by the federal government to have another mock outbreak this fall, which may provide an opportunity to test the latest contingency plans and see just how effective they’d be if an outbreak occurred.

In the meantime, livestock truckers should keep their fingers crossed in hopes that such an outbreak doesn’t occur anytime soon, because as it stands right now, truckers would be the front line soldiers without a General in the battle against foot-and-mouth disease.


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