Disease Threats To Canadian Livestock Persist

Despite a recent triumph in the battle against serious animal diseases, Canada must remain vigilant against new and old threats to its livestock industries, says the chief food safety officer.

Climate change and global trade patterns are helping spread new viruses from Africa to Europe and other countries, Brian Evans, vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and chief veterinary officer, said May 27 in a telephone news conference.

“Canada has to continue to work on animal health security,” he said during a break from the annual meeting of World Animal Health Organization (OIE) in Paris. “We have to keep diseases out of this country and help eradicate them elsewhere.”

The global eradication of rinderpest was announced during the OIE meeting. The disease affects cattle, sheep and goats and has caused catastrophic economic dislocation around the world since 300 B.C., Evans said.

While rinderpest never afflicted Canada, the past decade has seen outbreaks of BSE in cattle, a fatal wasting disease in pigs and avian influenza in British Columbia costing farmers and governments billions of dollars in losses, he said.

Canada must continue contributing expertise as well as funds to the global fight against livestock diseases to help stop them from spreading.

Foot-and-mouth disease, which last surfaced in Canada in 1952, has devastated pig herds in South Korea, Japan and South Asia in recent months, he noted.

Those outbreaks have OIE discussing a campaign to eradicate the disease, which he equated to the successful international campaign to eliminate smallpox in humans. The eradication of rinderpest “is a major milestone in animal disease control.” It also shows that an historic disease can be overcome. “It will have beneficial impact on food security.”

Eliminating foot-and-mouth will require an expanded effort to distribute vaccines to farmers to protect their animals and fast action to contain an outbreak to prevent the spread of the disease, he said.

“Canada can play a major role in fighting it.” In the past, the Canadian International Development Agency has helped fund the development of key vaccines. The new disease laboratory in Winnipeg can also play a major role in finding ways to rid the world of the disease.

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