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Livestock industry must prepare for just about anything

Threats can appear from any direction and most aren’t even on the radar

While the livestock industry and governments have improved their ability to respond to disease outbreaks, they need to broaden their preparations.

They must include new diseases and challenges, says a report from the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council.

Rob McNabb, general manager of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says the report is aimed at situations “for which we don’t have a current playbook on how to respond.”

These include diseases that are not yet a concern in Canada which means they’re not reportable or notifiable.

“We’re not even watching for them,” McNabb said. That situation makes disease prevention and biosecurity all the more important, he points out.

Changing weather patterns caused by climate change plus increased travel and globalized trade “means we’ll see a lot more diseases,” he adds. Most of the threats the industry is currently prepared for “are just the tip of the iceberg.”

The council report says, “While some commodities have experience with reportable diseases, the impact of an emerging disease with unknown factors may be quite different.”

The NFAHWC is guided by its strategic plan Farmed Animal Health and Welfare 2020, which aims to enhance the country’s animal health and welfare system.

The council wants to draw attention to emerging threats because in the early stages, they’re often not well defined, which may result in conflicting reports about the issue’s scope and potential impact.

“In many cases these problems are novel and as such may fall outside of the established regulatory authority for either the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) or provincial authorities,” the report reads.

“Emerging issues are not limited to disease events. They could be antimicrobial resistance, bioterrorism or other environmental hazards e.g. extreme weather, floods, earthquake, toxic or chemical in nature or market or trade issues driven that have animal health and welfare implications. Potential impact on human health must also be considered.”

It’s essential the agri-food sector and governments be prepared to mitigate the risk and impact of such possibilities and to ensure a cohesive response, the report says.

One possible outcome of an emerging threat is a risk of loss of market access. The report noted that the Canadian Animal Health Coalition is currently managing a project that will develop plans for provincial/regional emergency management co-ordination organizations.

Among other steps, the Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System (CAHSS) is being developed as a ‘network of networks,’ providing independence for the participating networks with a national focus on important issues with a number of projects in various stages.

The Centre for Emerging and Zoonotic Disease’s “integrated intelligence response project” was completed in early 2016 and is now in an implementation phase. The “livestock market interruption strategy” is the first comprehensive, national strategy to address the market impacts of a large-scale disruption in Canada.

The “emergency management framework” was developed to provide a comprehensive and collaborative approach to emergency management. It proposes a stronger, more collaborative approach to emergency management, with an increased focus on prevention and mitigation.

A “plant and animal health strategy” is being developed by the CFIA.

The council report also outlines a wide range of actions being taken by the agri-food industry or governments to deal with the risk of emerging threats. They aim to improve detection, biosecurity, risk communications, financial support during a disease outbreak and ensure access to slaughter and processing plants during a disease outbreak.

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