Agriculture Canada launches emergency management consultation

Agriculture faces evolving and increasingly complex risks in a more volatile climate

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is looking for industry input into the question of how to respond to the special changes faced by agriculture in natural disasters or emergency disease outbreaks.

In partnership with the provinces, a draft Strategic Emergency Management Framework for Agriculture in Canada has been prepared on ways the existing system could be strengthened. A consultation with farm groups ends March 11. The document is long on principles and guidelines and short on any specifics.

Agriculture faces “evolving and increasingly complex risks,” the document says. In response, governments “propose a stronger, more cohesive and collaborative approach to preventing, mitigating, preparing for, responding to and recovering from emergencies.

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The food-producing sector is receiving special attention because its “operating environment is changing rapidly and the threats, hazards and risks that can lead to emergencies are increasingly complex and diverse.”

“A paradigm shift is required by all parties in placing greater emphasis on prevention and mitigation, given the potential for significant emergency impacts faced by the agriculture sector, particularly with respect to Canada’s economy and environment.”

Measures that prevent or mitigate the impact of disasters will create a more resilient and sustainable agriculture sector,” the department said. They will also simplify the task of responding to and recovering from a natural disaster.

While the federal and provincial governments want an increased focus on prevention and mitigation, they recognize not all risks can be prevented. “There are times when the cost to prevent an emergency may be prohibitive and, therefore, a risk management decision could instead be made to respond and recover.”

One priority would be to build agriculture’s resilience to disasters.

One obvious threat is climate change which will inflict extreme events and new pests and plant diseases on the industry, the document states. Another is “consolidation, concentration and integration, which are increasingly characterizing the Canadian agricultural sector and may increase vulnerability by magnifying the impact of emergency events on the sector as a whole.”

The industry’s dependence on technology that could be crippled during a disaster is another factor the strategy had to look at, the document notes.

The strategy says preparation will help the industry cope with disasters.

It cites the 2014-15 avian influenza outbreaks in southwestern Ontario and British Columbia “where increased biosecurity measures adopted by industry helped the effectiveness of response, and also demonstrated how industry association collaboration can improve government response efforts by providing direct information and communication with their membership.”

The document suggests modernized plant and animal health programs including enhanced pre-border oversight is the kind of measure that would strengthen the sector’s resilience.

Other possible steps include:

  • A strategy to modernize and enhance plant pest and animal disease prevention and management to mitigate risks to Canada’s plant and animal resource base through proactive, collaborative and sustainable approaches;
  • Widespread adoption and consistent application of prevention and biosecurity measures to mitigate the introduction and spread of pests, diseases and contamination events;
  • Strengthened public risk communication to build individual awareness, and reinforce a culture of emergency prevention, resilience and responsible action by each partner in practising preventive approaches and efforts to mitigate the impacts of emergencies;
  • Enhanced scientific and technical work on risk reduction and its mobilization through the co-ordination of existing networks and scientific research institutions at all levels, and in all regions, in order to strengthen the evidence base in support of transparent decision-making.

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