The Manitoba Pork Council is scrambling to convince federal officials to extend a program credited with keeping porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) out of the province.
Under the program, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency allowed trucks returning to Canada after delivering pigs in the U.S. to be sealed and disinfected back in Manitoba.
As of May 2, trucks returning to Canada from the U.S. will be required to be disinfected and cleaned at American facilities before entering Canada.
Officials with the Manitoba Pork Council said the American truck-washing stations harbour the disease-carrying pathogens they are trying to avoid.
“There are no cleaning standards in the United States, none,” said the council’s general manager, Andrew Dickson, adding that his American counterparts agree with that assessment.
Dickson said the council first asked for a permanent change to the agency’s regulations two years ago, but did not receive a positive response to the suggestion.
“They should just change the regulation. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said, adding the current regulations are contradictory and ineffective.
“On the one hand, it says that trucks that go to U.S. farms should be washed and disinfected prior to their return to Canada. But they are also saying that trucks that drop pigs off at processing plants in the United States only need to be scraped down,” said the general manager. “And any veterinarian will tell you that a packing plant is probably more likely to carry a disease risk than any individual farm. So why do we have this double standard here?”
The council has even investigated the possibility of building and operating truck-washing stations on the U.S. side of the border, but the project proved too expensive to implement, said Dickson.
The inspection agency declined to be interviewed but restated in an email that “the informed compliance period will end May 2, 2016.”
Requests for a response to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s office were passed on to other departments, which did not respond by press time.
Dickson said the minister has indicated a willingness to meet with the Manitoba Pork Council on the issue.
“I’m hoping we can take him up on that before the deadline,” said Dickson. “Mr. Ritz didn’t do it, so we’re hoping that the new government will bite the bullet and change the regulation.”
He noted that while new cases of PED are still appearing in Ontario, Manitoba has been free of the virus that causes the disease since the fall. Producers credit that in large part to the ability to clean out trucks once they reach Canada.
It’s not necessarily an approach that would work in eastern provinces, but the manager said it has proved effective in Manitoba and new regulations should allow for discretion, while recognizing differences between provinces and regions.
“It works well here because we’ve got a modern transport industry, with a limited number of players, who have invested in the industry, new trucks, washing stations,” he said. “They grasp that this is going to be the future.”
That only one road links Manitoba and Ontario helps keep the virus at bay too.
Dickson said CFIA has failed to see that the threat of PED is still real.
“CFIA claims that PED is waning, that it’s not such a serious disease anymore in the United States, because the number of cases being reported has dropped,” he said. “Well, that may be true, but that doesn’t mean the disease has gone away, it just happens to be endemic now in 50 per cent of the farms in the United States.”
Dickson said Canadian herds have no immunity from continued exposure to the disease, and therefore Canadian producers would incur severe losses if an outbreak were to happen here.”