Players confident with ASF outbreak response plan

Plan offers a “test” for potential new organization

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Glacier FarmMedia – The federal government and industry partners have expressed confidence in plans to prevent and, if needed, combat an outbreak of African swine fever on Canadian soil.

Beyond working with the United States and Mexico, Canada has partnered with the provinces and industry groups to come up with an action plan for ASF.

Why it matters: ASF could devastate Canadian hog exports so the nation must be well-prepared to deal with it.

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“We are actually preparing all together, we are having regular meetings with all the players to make sure that we are able to co-ordinate our preparedness, that we discuss the key policy issues, that we are on the same page when it comes to communication,” says Dr. Aline Dimitri, executive director of the Animal Health Directorate for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Agri-Food Economic Systems lead researcher Al Mussels, who was on a panel discussing the issue during the Canadian Agri-Food policy conference in Ottawa, says the risks to Canada are well known.

“The wild boar population that seems to be expanding and the risk that ASF could trickle in and get into the wild boar population. And then secondly, of course, it’s the importation via air-sea transport of contaminated product from East Asia, notably China, that would come in that’s contaminated with African swine fever,” he says.

The federal government’s plan is based on four pillars: preparedness and planning, enhanced biosecurity measures, ensuring business continuity in an outbreak event and co-ordinated risk communications.

A potential outbreak, and criticisms from some circles that federal government response to potential disease outbreaks is fragmented and disorganized, has prompted the potential formation of what is being called Animal Health Canada.

Megan Bergman, executive director of the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council, is supporting the Animal Health Canada working group.

“It’s an initiative that evolved out of a desire from both industry and government partners to be able to develop a more cohesive approach to, and a shared responsibility to dealing with global health emergency events,” she said. “We’re all pulling in the same direction and we’re collaborating that we have a plan that works well for everybody.”

The idea of forming a national body based on animal health involving all the key players is, in part, inspired by models that already exist in other countries, such as New Zealand and Australia.

She said so far the approach to ASF has been a proactive one, with all involved looking to identify gaps and challenges prior to, rather than during, an outbreak event.

“You know, one of the biggest challenges, is how do we have an inclusive approach to governance, because it tends to be a little bit disease specific in terms of what we have in place currently,” Bergman said, adding responses have also tended to be regionally specific. “The structure has been set up and established for how to manage those issues from province to province or region to region.”

Dimitri says that even though Animal Health Canada isn’t a formal entity, it will learn from the lessons of ASF, “because how we’re managing it is better than what we’ve managed in the past. And we’re going to also learn from this experience on, how do we work together? What do we need to make it work well?”

She says ASF offers a “test case” for what a potential Animal Health Canada body could look like.

About the author

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D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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