No Risk Of U. S., Mexico Border Closures Over H1N1, Says Wowchuk

“Was no discussion about closing borders.”

– agriculture minister rosann wowchuk

Canada’s NAFTA trading partners won’t seize the opportunity of an H1N1 outbreak in Canadian hogs to close their borders to live animal imports – nor would Canada do the same – according to Manitoba’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Rosann Wowchuk.

Discussions at last week’s 19th annual Tri-National Agricultural Accord summit in Gimli saw unanimous agreement from all three countries that the practice of referring to H1N1 as “swine flu” must stop, because it unfairly links the hog industry to the new virus which contains parts of the human, bird and swine flu viruses in the eyes of consumers.

But there was no need for assurances aimed at keeping the border open in the event of an outbreak, said Wowchuk, because protocols are already in place for quarantining and treating infected herds that are respected by officials from Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

“There was no discussion about closing borders,” she said. “It’s not a human health issue. There are protocols in place for the movement of animals; it’s all done. The animals won’t leave the farm if they are sick. Once they are over the virus, then they’re fine.”

As fur ther proof that Canada’s NAFTA partners won’t slam the border shut using H1N1 as an excuse for cutting off trade, Wowchuk pointed out that the U. S. and Mexican borders remained open to Canadian hogs even after the virus was detected in an Alberta herd.

“We have had it, and the borders didn’t close,” she said.

All the delegates at last week’s meeting described the temporary bans on

Canadian pork imports put in place by some 50 countries after the Alberta outbreak were “an overreaction” and generally there was a feeling of frustration over the issue, she added.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included how agriculture could help the economies of all three nations emerge from the worst recession in six decades, regulatory harmonization, discussion of the impacts of country-of-origin labelling, and developing coping strategies for agriculture in the face of global climate change.

In other developments related to H1N1, the provincial government is in the process of planning with the livestock sector for the possibility of a pandemic influenza outbreak this fall, although the exact details are still being hammered out.

“Each one will be putting a plan in place to identify if their workers are sick, how they are going to feed their animals. All of that is happening; pandemic plans are being worked on for all sectors.”

Wowchuk added that the announcement of $75 million in funding from the federal government on Saturday to assist hog producers in exiting the business reflects the need for further “restructuring” in the industry.

“Our industry has been built on an export market. If you can’t get your weanlings into the U. S. then that’s a huge loss,” she said. “I think that we also have to look at slaughter capacity. If we can slaughter, then we can export meat, not the animals. But that takes time.”

That could pay big dividends for Canadian producers whose live animal exports are being discounted by packers due to country-of-origin labelling (COOL) laws south of the border, she added.

“Losing a market is never a positive thing. But if you’ve lost that market, how do you live with it? That’s why we have to make some changes.” [email protected]

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