Manitoba has a permanent chief veterinary officer for the first time in over a year.
Dr. Scott Zaari has been named to the post. The position has been empty since the previous CVO, Dr. Megan Bergman, left in spring of 2018 for a different job.
The CVO’s responsibilities have been divided by several of the department’s veterinarians since Bergman’s departure, the province has said.
“I’m no different than the veterinarians that they will hire for servicing their cattle, that they’ll have in their swine barn,” Zaari said. “With that, I’m the type of person to really want to get hands on and meet people and get in the field. Expect me to be very accessible and be very transparent and be very personable and very open and expect to meet me.”
Dr. Scott Zaari is the new head of Manitoba’s Chief Veterinary Office, which responds to livestock health issues.
Zaari began his career as a mixed veterinarian in Brooks, Alta., following his graduation from the University of Calgary. Zaari was among the second class to graduate from the then brand new veterinary program, and then spent two years at a family-run clinic in the heart of Canada’s cattle country.
He largely worked with cow-calf operations during that time, echoing Manitoba’s own primarily cow-calf cattle production system.
The following six years were eclectic.
Zaari eventually moved on to the OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health, the organization that develops international trade standards relating to animal health. The organization is also key in fighting foreign animal disease on a global scale and monitoring food safety and animal health across trade lines.
Zaari spent three years with OIE, working in southeast Asia in its foreign animal disease control program. The position was, “basically working with vets that are in my position right now,” he said.
His own focus was largely on foot-and-mouth disease and rabies.
Zaari eventually took a position in New York City with the Animal Care Center, working to rehome stray, fostered or surrendered animals. He has been with the centre for the last two years before accepting his role as Manitoba’s CVO last month.
“I’ve had a good opportunity to see animal health in multiple lenses, from a local lens in Alberta and in an international lens, not only in southeast Asia, but I have had the opportunity to volunteer in various capacities as a vet,” he said.
Zaari’s experience with disease control and foreign animal disease prevention will put him in good stead, given the hog industry’s anxieties over African swine fever (ASF) and ongoing fight with PED.
ASF has yet to make its way to North America, but has caused devastating hog losses in China and other Asian countries. About 1.17 million hogs had been culled in China because of the disease as of Oct. 10, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports.
Manitoba, meanwhile, is fighting an existing threat. The province confirmed 78 cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus as of October 11 this year, two shy of the record-breaking 80 cases in 2017.
The province and industry have been fighting to track how the virus is spreading, since fewer cases have been linked to direct animal movement this year, CVO vet Glen Duizer said in September.
There has been focus on PED in his first month with the CVO, Zaari said.
“I think that there’s probably very few cases like PED (in Manitoba) where the industry has got together and has been able to develop programs jointly and supporting each other in this and that’s what I’ve recognized coming in,” he said, noting that his department will likely keep its programs in line with current efforts and will continue to collaborate with industry.
Zaari says he has been impressed with industry initiatives such as the hog industry’s PigTrace traceability program, as well as the role of the CVO in monitoring animal welfare. The department has a reputation for “punching above its weight,” he said.
“I think it’s really important to understand the Manitoba perspective at all levels,” he added. “I’m talking about understanding what the perspectives are of the industry groups, the producers, all the way down to the colleagues that I sit next to in my office, and so I’m very excited to take the first period of time here to listen and to learn and not to be too reactive and just to try and understand what the local situation is and maybe try and find local solutions to local issues.”