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CFIA hands over anthrax control to provincial authorities

Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Veterinarian is moving in as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulls out of the anthrax business.

The agency announced last fall it would be handing over responsibility to provincial authorities, saying the endemic presence of anthrax in some areas means eradication is not feasible. It wants its staff to focus on emerging and foreign animal diseases such as avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease.

“This is where federal involvement is critical and aligns with current disease realities,” said CFIA spokesperson Lisa Murphy.

Anthrax is a naturally occurring disease that can have devastating effects on cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and bison. The spores causing the disease exist in the soil across the Canadian Prairies, and typically surface when hot, dry weather follows heavy rains. Although the disease has caused mass human illness and deaths in countries where deadstock are commonly butchered and eaten, it has been preventable since 1881 when Louis Pasteur discovered a vaccine.

Ranchers are typically “very aware” if their operations are at risk, said Dr. Glen Duizer, a veterinarian with Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Veterinarian.

“Producers who live in those areas are going to want to make sure that their herds are vaccinated. It’s just really good insurance,” said Duizer.

The rule of thumb is “10 and 10” — if an outbreak has occurred within 10 kilometres from an operation within that last 10 years, ranchers should strongly consider vaccinating all animals in their herds, he said.

The end of CFIA involvement, which took effect in April, means indemnities of up to $500 for proper disposal of cattle killed by the disease and free vaccine for surviving animals in areas affected by outbreaks, will no longer be offered, said Duizer.

Regional animal health authorities in the U.S. and western provinces all regularly update each other on anthrax cases, added Duizer.

It’s been known for some time that anthrax, along with diseases such as rabies and anaplasmosis, were being moved out of the CFIA’s domain or into a modified reportable disease category, said Cam Dahl, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers.

Dahl refused to speculate on whether cuts to the CFIA are behind the move, but he said the beef industry needs to ensure provincial labs and veterinarians retain their capacity to monitor and assist ranchers when such diseases are found.

“The CFIA has indicated that their focus needs to be on emerging diseases and threats. It’s hard to argue that those things aren’t important,” said Dahl.

Duizer noted anthrax remains a federally reportable disease. This means producers, practitioners and laboratories will still be required to report suspect cases to the CFIA, which will notify trading partners and the World Organization for Animal Health as required by international reporting obligations.

Should a major outbreak occur, as it did in 2006 when hundreds of animals died across the Prairies, Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Veterinarian will lead control efforts under its existing emergency plans with the assistance of commodity groups, private practitioners and ranchers, as well as whatever resources the CFIA can offer.

“That’s the honest answer. We don’t park 25 staff just in case we have an emergency,” said Duizer.

But Connie Haugerud, whose farm near Melfort lost dozens of cattle and sheep in 2006, said the end of CFIA involvement could leave the ranching community in the lurch should a repeat of that stressful summer occur.

“I don’t know why they don’t keep it up because it was a big help,” said Haugerud.

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