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New Strategy Could Protect Industry

Li ves tock groups and government officials are drafting a National Farmed Animal Health Strategy to protect both humans and animals from new diseases and viruses and encourage a more sustainable approach to livestock production.

Norm Willis, a former chief veterinary officer for Canada and one of the architects of the strategy, outlined its progress at the recent convention of the Dairy Farmers of Canada. A working group hopes to have proposals for the strategy ready by the end of June and to have it operating by 2015, if sufficient funding is found.

That might seem like a long time off but there are 18 components, such as new laboratories, a surveillance network and a national identification and traceability system that must be developed for the strategy. It will be administered by a Farmed Animal Health Council composed of industry and government representatives. There also has to be a realistic compensation package to encourage farmers to report ill animals.

“During the last 20 years, a new disease has come along every eight months,” Willis said. “We need a way to deal with emerging and traditional animal diseases. It has to be a nimble, effective and responsive strategy.” It’s not just to protect livestock because animal diseases also pose a threat to human health.

There’s a business case for the strategy, Willis said. The livestock and poultry industries are important economically to the country. “International market access in the future may well depend on a country having a credible farmed animal health strategy.” It would also give consumers confidence that diseases among farmed animals can be controlled and prevented from threatening food safety, he added.

Willis said that the kind of co-operation that developed among governments and farmers in the wake of the discovery of BSE in 2003 is needed on a permanent basis. “If we’re prepared in advance, then we know what to do when something breaks out.”

The current animal health protection system fails to address all diseases, can’t forecast possible threats, lacks a national forum for animal health policy and doesn’t deal with trade issues linked to diseases, he said. It also doesn’t place any emphasis on sustainable farm practices as a means of preventing human diseases.

Among the participants in the working group are the national livestock and poultry organizations, the federal and provincial chief veterinarians, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian Animal Health Coalition.

The working group is seeking feedback on its proposals. More information is available at www.animalhealth.ca.Feedback can be sent to [email protected] malhealth.ca.

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