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More Animal Health Improvements Needed, Report Says

Co-operator contributor / ottawa

Canada has improved its animal health procedures, but changing risks posed by rising international trade and emerging threats point to the need for additional safeguards, says a new report.

Animal health risk assessment in Canada is built on a solid foundation of knowledge and expertise, says the report of 12 experts selected by the Council of Canadian Academics.

To stay at the forefront of animal health risk assessment, there are numerous activities that can be improved such as: strengthening expertise and knowledge capacity; considering a broader range of consequences related to an animal health event; improving communication among risk assessors, managers and stakeholders; enhancing the transparency of the decision-making process; and setting aside resources for foresight assessments, it suggests.

The report was requested by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to assess what the agriculture sector had accomplished since the discovery of BSE in Alberta in 2003.

Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen s Association, who helped draft the report, said it highlights the need to ensure Canada has the capacity to conduct adequate animal risk management in the future. We also need to look at improving the training of veterinarians and make the system more transparent. It also suggests we need to ensure the risk management system is fully integrated among governments, vets and farmers.

Now, we hope the government will act on it, he added.

Increased global trade and migration, higher population densities, and climate change all affect the nature of risks associated with animal diseases and human health, the report said.

The pace of these changes, the growing interconnectedness of so many risks and consequences, and the potential impact of mitigation strategies make the process of assessing and managing risks increasingly complex.

Animal health has a direct impact on the health of Canadians, the economy and the environment, the report notes. The majority of emerging diseases in humans have their or igin in the animal kingdom.

The discovery of BSE in Canada taught farmers, processors and governments how costly animal diseases can be, it pointed out. Applying the proper risk assessment techniques, based on scientific knowledge and international best practices, can help to mitigate these and other negative impacts of animal health events.

The well-being of animals, humans, and the environment are intrinsically linked when one is at risk, the others will be affected, the report said, noting the SARS outbreak of 2003 is estimated to have cost the Toronto economy close to $1 billion and the BSE discovery the same year cost Canada close to $6 billion.

There are also foreign animal diseases, such as foot-and- mouth disease, which can spread among wildlife and domestic animal populations, upsetting local ecosystems and causing economic losses to animal industries, it said.

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Animal health risk assessment in Canada isbuilt on a solid foundation of knowledge andexpertise.

FROM THE REPORT OF 12 EXPERTS SELECTED BY THE COUNCIL OF CANADIAN ACADEMICS

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