Manitoba elk and deer producers are less than impressed with incoming federal rules over chronic wasting disease (CWD).
As of April 1, producers who want federal help with CWD are going to have to be part of the CFIA’s Voluntary Herd Certification Program. They’ll only be compensated for destroyed animals if they are registered with the program.
The agency says rules need to be tightened after years of effort have failed to eliminate the disease from Alberta and Saskatchewan. The two provinces are the only places in Canada to test positive for the disease and new cases continue to be found in both wild and farmed herds. Four herds tested positive in 2017, all in Saskatchewan.
With several cases inching close to the border with Manitoba, this province has been on guard against the CWD for years. Manitoba Sustainable Development has set aside a CWD surveillance zone along the provincial border and parts of western Manitoba. Any deer or elk hunted in this region must be submitted for testing each hunting season and there are limits to transporting harvested game, the use of some hunting aids, and importing cervids to the province.
The CFIA’s Dr. Alex McIsaac says disease tracking will happen for every case, regardless of whether the farmer is registered. The agency will not, however, order animals destroyed or pay out the farmer for any loss unless they are part of the Voluntary Herd Certification Program.
Response for unregistered farms will depend on the farmer or, in some cases, provincial rules, McIsaac said. Farmers with CWD will still be able to ship animals for slaughter.
McIsaac says those positive, unregistered animals are unlikely to spur an outbreak even without CFIA response.
“The animals are off the property and they’ll get disposed of properly at slaughter and that’s the end of it,” he said, adding that the CFIA has a protocol for CWD-positive animals to go to slaughter.
Producers looking for program details will have to look further than the CFIA’s main CWD website.
Standards are published under the Accredited Veterinarian’s Manual, also available online, McIsaac stressed.
Producers will need at least five years to rise through the program and become fully certified. Each year will come with a new level of certification. New animals or embryos must come from a farm with an equal rating, or the entire farm gets moved down to match the new arrivals.
The program covers deadstock testing for all animals older than a year.
Animals cannot be tested live for the disease, although both industry and government are working to develop a live test.
Manitoba already requires all mature elk and farmed deer to be tested after death. The program, however, will add a mandatory third-party inventory for the first two years, plus every three years afterward. An accredited veterinarian will administer the program, as well as submit a yearly inventory report, including identified animals, which animals entered or left the farm, destinations, certification status of any farm the producer got animals from, deaths and escapes and CWB lab results.
“The report must account for every cervid over 12 months of age that has died, and must state that all the records that the owner is required to keep have been examined and found satisfactory,” the CFIA says.
Regular herd veterinarians can get accredited through the CFIA district offices, McIsaac said. The veterinarian plays a larger role in the new system and will be needed for more time on farm, something McIsaac admits will raise costs for producers.
“The biggest thing is the biosecurity measures,” McIsaac said. “That is the biggest change in all this.”
The new policy has been met with dismay from Manitoba’s elk industry.
Ian Thorleifson, president of the Manitoba Elk Growers Association, says they support a robust monitoring system, but called the CFIA changes, “poorly conceived.”
“We consulted with CFIA for many years looking for improvements to the program and were not able to come up with significant improvements beyond what we were doing at the time,” he said. “We had the herd certification program in place. I think that we’re very supportive of the herd certification program, but they have made it extremely difficult, and especially difficult for people who are in areas where CWD has never been diagnosed.”
Thorleifson said program requirements make it difficult to get and remain certified. He has also taken exception to the rule that a producer must be part of the program if the CFIA is to intervene or compensate the farmer. The result, he fears, might create a foothold for the disease in provinces like Manitoba, should a farm not be registered, contract CWD and then continue to operate.
“You have a farm that is not participating in the herd certification program. Then, it comes down with a CWD positive for whatever reason, there could be a variety of reasons, and CFIA says, ‘No, (we’re) not going to do anything about it.’ Then you’ve got a naive province with a disease on a farm, no evidence of where it came from and the possibility of it spreading to elsewhere, and we really don’t think that’s good management,” he said.
John Eisner of Swan Valley Elk Ranch also argued that producers may lose certification, not due to negligence, but from chance, if an animal is lost.
The program exempts producers from submitting heads if an animal is lost to fire, theft, predation where the head is gone or “any other reason or circumstance over which the owner could not reasonably be expected to have control, resulting in the destruction or disappearance of the body, such as a flood.”
Those may not cover all scenarios, Eisner said. He, himself, has had animals go missing without explanation.
He has not decided whether to join the certification program.
“I really agree with a good solid program and I think Manitoba has it,” he said.
The Manitoba Elk Growers Association says April is still too soon for regulations to be put in play. Thorleifson also pointed to research looking for a viable live test. Thorleifson would like to see those tests in place before changes like the ones proposed by the CFIA.
“For them to impose those changes and drop CWD management, to a certain extent, into the lap of the province, we think is inappropriate and unfair and, again, poorly considered,” he said. “I think there should have been a lot more discussion between the provinces and various stakeholders with CFIA about these particular changes.”
CFIA consulted with stakeholders through 2016. Thorleifson admits that his organization has been in discussion with the CFIA for years, but says they saw little interaction after changes were proposed.