I don’t think I am surprised, but I continue to be impressed with how south eastern Alberta ranchers are handling this TB investigation currently being
carried out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Producers immediately affected have been open and forthright in discussing the fact that one animal produced in this extensive ranching area tested positive for tuberculosis in mid-September. A quarantine has been imposed over 30 some ranches — no cattle are moving — and a few hundred of the most high risk animals are already slated for slaughter. And depending on the outcome of testing, the purge to control spread of the disease could mean disposal of every animal on some farms including family pets such as dogs and cats.
The situation is just a bitch (pardon my language) but I can’t imagine the frustration, fears and concerns going through the minds of these farm families. You get up every day and just want to do your best in looking after your family and running your business and then something like this comes out of left field and turns your whole life upside down. And it’s no fault of any of these farm families — they’ve just been blind sided.
But producers and industry associations have taken the high road. It happened, it’s a fact, now let’s just deal with it. I don’t doubt there are plenty of private-moment feelings and thoughts that aren’t aired publicly, but the overriding concern is to get the mess sorted out and move on.
I’ve just been to a conference in Calgary discussing the important role of having a livestock traceability system in Canada. This TB case in Alberta is a classic example of why it’s important. There is no doubt it is tough for the affected ranchers and will have broader economic impact certainly on southern Alberta and perhaps ripple into parts of the whole province. But it appears the issue is contained. It hasn’t shut down the Canadian livestock industry.
It sounds like the CFIA is just doing it’s best. They didn’t cause the problem, but they are the government agency charged with the responsibility of investigating and limiting the impact, controlling and removing the threat of the disease. They need to follow certain protocols, and probably this quarantine net over 30 ranches may be over kill, but better to be safe than sorry. And who knows, before their done they may need to cast even a bigger net, let’s hope not.
If I am seeing any criticism it’s that the CFIA needs to pull out all the stops. They are working with 30 ranches, (30 families) testing a few thousand head of cattle, they need to enlist every available resource to get the testing done not now, but right now. Just recently on the news I watched government workers protesting on parliament hill over a new computer system that was screwing up the processing of their pay cheques. Well here are 30 farm families that are dealing with a huge screw up in their livelihood — this is time for round the clock action to get this issue sorted out.
And one other observation I will make, I think it would be useful tax dollars spent to ensure that CFIA inspectors, regulators and senior managers put their boots on the ground to understand all aspects of Canadian agriculture. One article I read on the TB issue said CFIA investigators had a hard time getting their head around that in some parts of Alberta a few hundred head of cattle can be pastured on 30,000 acres. This isn’t like Ontario and Quebec or Atlantic Canada where a 100 acre field is considered huge.
And at the traceability conference there was a discussion in one session about inviting senior CFIA managers to a Saskatchewan auction mart to observe first hand the real life challenges to applying a traceability system that involves tagging cattle and recording their movement. The CFIA response was that the manager had not been given enough notice to fit this into his schedule.
My first thought was…does CFIA really need to be invited? There are auction sales year round in this country, and the Western Canadian fall calf run lasts for several weeks…finding an active sale shouldn’t be that hard to schedule. They shouldn’t need an invitation. CFIA is developing a traceability system the livestock sector not only wants, but largely has bought into. But with the sheer volume of cattle being moved at certain times of the year tagging and tracking everything can be a challenge. So come on CFIA managers — get out of Ottawa and go see how the Canadian agriculture industry operates on a day to day basis…see the real life situations where the rules and regulations need to be applied. It may not change any regulations but at least the powers that be will get a better idea of how the real world operates.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]