U.S. tests OK for CFIA chronic wasting disease certification

ELK | The allowance is meant to help producers enrolled in herd certification, but sending their animals to the U.S. for slaughter

elk The allowance is meant to aid producers enrolled in herd certification, but sending their animals to the U.S. for slaughter

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has eliminated one irritating piece of red tape for Canadian-born elk slaughtered in the U.S.

Canada’s voluntary Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Herd Certification Program will now accept test results from American labs. Results can now come from labs certified under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, rather than requiring all slaughtered animals (including those processed in the U.S.) to have test results from a CFIA-accredited facility, the CFIA said Nov. 3.

Elk producers enrolled in the CFIA program are required to test 100 per cent of regularly slaughtered animals, something that was a challenge if elk were being processed in the U.S.

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Overlaid on top of provincial slaughter test requirements, testing for the fatal nervous system disease has gradually increased year to year under the national herd certification program.

While the program always required testing for on-farm deaths and emergency slaughter — slaughter arranged within two weeks of the actual kill — the program included no additional testing requirement when first introduced. As of January 2018, the CFIA began requiring that 50 per cent of all enrolled animals sent for regular slaughter would have to be tested. In 2019, that increased to 75 per cent, until finally this year the program required tests for all cervids headed to the abattoir.

“The problem became that in some instances, these animals were not being slaughtered in Canada. They were being slaughtered in the U.S.,” said Corlena Patterson, executive director of the Canadian Sheep Federation.

The Canadian Sheep Federation is tapped by the CFIA to administer the CWD Herd Certification Program for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.

“Oftentimes, the exporter, or the person who owned the animals as they were being exported and going to slaughter, did not accompany the shipment of animals and it became a little bit difficult to get those slaughters sampled and to understand which labs could conduct them and get them back to ourselves, as the program administrators, to make sure they had all been sampled,” she said.

It is not immediately clear how many animals, and how many elk producers were impacted by that scenario.

“For our enrolled producers, it wasn’t a huge number,” Patterson said, “but I do understand in some jurisdictions where the program runs, that accounted for quite a number of the animals being slaughtered.”

Other producers, who were not enrolled, would not have been required to report any test results to the CFIA program, she also added.

Only two Manitoba herds are cur­rently enrolled in the program, accord­ing to information from the Can­adian Sheep Federation, “and their target market is not the U.S. market for slaughter,” Patterson said.

Patterson noted, however, that the CFIA had also changed how CWD compensation and federal support was managed in 2018 to hinge on enrolment. Enrolment is also, Patterson said, a common requirement for animals bound for the United States as breeding stock.

While participation in the program remains voluntary, as of April 2018 producers had to be enrolled with the CWD Herd Certification Program if they wanted to be compensated for animals destroyed as part of CWD control. Nor would the CFIA issue orders to destroy animals as part of CWD control to non-enrolled farms, although they would continue to track every case they were made aware of.

At the time, the CFIA cited the general futility of efforts to totally eliminate CWD, given its foothold in wild deer populations.

The 2018 changes caused consternations among elk producers, who argued certification was difficult to both get and maintain and also objected to what they saw as potential gaps in disease control, given the cease on destruction orders for non-enrolled farms.

The CWD Herd Certification Program National Standards have been consistently updated annually. The CFIA has said that 2020 standards are finalized and will come into effect Dec. 31 this year.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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