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Editorial: Keeping PEDv out

Plus, restoring prison farms to be studied

Is it a coincidence that three Manitoba hog operations have experienced outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) within weeks after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reinstated protocols for washing trucks returning from the U.S.?

We think not.

During the height of the PEDv outbreak in the U.S. two years ago, the CFIA suspended a rule that required trucks delivering pigs to U.S. farms be washed before returning to Canada. So when truckers reached the border, their trucks were sealed and they had to have an appointment at a Manitoba truck wash to have their unit cleaned before they were allowed to proceed.

However, the CFIA since reinstated the previous rule, using the logic that washing trucks before they cross back into Canada is an “effective tool” for keeping swine diseases out. We’ll grant that theoretically, this seems logical.

But logic doesn’t apply to human nature.

The PEDv outbreak in the U.S. two years ago killed eight million hogs and it spread faster than anyone could imagine through multiple means, ranging from tire treads to loading docks to contaminated feed. Surprisingly, truck wash stations in the U.S. were also identified as a vector.

It turns out many use recycled water. As Homer Simpson would say: ‘Doh!’

Finding a wash station that doesn’t use recycled water in the U.S. border states can take truckers hundreds of miles out of their way.

Allowing trucks from Canada to return to Canada before being cleaned proved to be an effective strategy for preventing PEDv outbreaks here.

In reality, hog truckers are now faced with two stops at a truck wash, first in the U.S. as required by the federal rules and secondly, at a wash station in Manitoba to make sure they are clean.

But of course, stopping at the first wash station, at which they face a higher risk of being exposed to the virus is required. The second stop, which is now on the front lines of keeping the virus out, is optional.

Explain that one to a banker.

The explanations coming from CFIA for ignoring the industry’s pleas and the federal minister’s blind acceptance of the agency’s position fall far short of adequate.


Prison farms studied

There were many Canadians who disagreed with the former federal government’s decision to close the network of prison farms in this country a few years ago.

The Conservatives under Stephen Harper ended the prison farm program at six minimum-security prisons across Canada in 2010.

It was said to be done to save money, but philosophically it was because it was perceived that learning how to milk a cow or feed chickens wasn’t punitive enough and did little to prepare inmates for the modern world.

Some of the citizens protesting the decision were arrested and even went to jail over it. They also formed a co-op to buy up some of the cows from the Kingston dairy farm as part of a co-op to keep the herd around for when a new government might reconsider. And there was a weekly vigil at the entrance to one of the former farms “to remind the government and the public that closing the prison farms was a mistake that can be corrected,” said Jeff Peters, a member of Save Our Prison Farms (SOPF) in a release.

That wait took five years longer than first anticipated, after the Harper government was elected to a majority.

But it now appears their efforts have paid off.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has launched a feasibility study on restoring the prison farms — at least the two in the Kingston, Ontario area.

What’s more, that study will allow for public input.

“The farms provided meaningful work experience and training, as well as rehabilitation and therapy. Prison staff told us that inmates who participated in the prison farm program were less likely than inmates overall to reoffend when they were released, so the program made our communities safer,” Peters said.

Many of the inmates who served in the farm program did leave with skills that they used to support themselves in manufacturing, truck driving, heavy equipment operation and construction, as well as work related to agriculture.

Of course, a feasibility study is no guarantee that the farms will be reinstated, and so far, nothing has been said about reopening the four other prison farms, including the one at Manitoba’s Stony Mountain.

The prison farms were collectively losing about $4 million annually when the previous government decided to close them, although if they lowered an inmate’s risk of reoffending you could argue that is money well spent. A 2013 report showed that the average cost to taxpayers of keeping someone in prison for a year is about $117,000.

The local citizens and farm organizations such as the National Farmers Union deserve kudos for their persistence.

About the author

Editorial Director

Laura Rance is the Editorial Director for Glacier FarmMedia. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered agriculture and rural issues for more than 30 years.

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