Bluetongue to drop from “reportable” to “notifiable”

Regulations that require any suspected cases of bluetongue in livestock to be reported to federal veterinary inspectors, even though Canada has lifted its bluetongue control measures on U.S. imports, are set to change by as early as next month.

Amendments to the federal Health of Animals Regulations will downgrade the five common U.S. serotypes of bluetongue from a “reportable” disease — which makes it an offence not to report a suspected case — to “immediately notifiable.”

Under bluetongue’s current “reportable” designation, “this level of obligation and sanction is not consistent with the new import policy,” federal animal health officials said in their regulatory impact analysis statement Saturday.

“It would be more appropriate to allow the U.S. serotypes of bluetongue to be covered by a less severe reporting scheme, while maintaining the current status for exotic serotypes of bluetongue.”

The public has 30 days to comment on the proposed regulatory amendments from their date of publication, July 4, in the Canada Gazette.

Generally, “immediately notifiable” diseases are considered to be exotic to Canada and “of less concern” than reportable diseases. Only laboratories are required to contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency if they suspect or diagnose a case of an “immediately notifiable” disease.

Of the five bluetongue serotypes considered endemic in the U.S., the midge species that can transmit the virus is not considered present in Canada east of the Ontario-Manitoba border. The midge does exist in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, and in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba south of 53° north latitude.

The Okanagan Valley is the only area in Canada where bluetongue has occurred and would arguably provide the most suitable climatic conditions for the spread of bluetongue of any area in Canada, CFIA said. But even then, significant clinical disease or death losses in sheep and white-tailed deer have only been reported once, in 1987-88.

Furthermore, CFIA said, a 2004 study found that the midge species known to transmit bluetongue in the U.S. is at the “northernmost limit” of its range and has a “very poor capacity” to transmit bluetongue in Western Canada. And so far as is known, bluetongue virus can’t overwinter in Canada.

CFIA noted that a number of livestock associations and three provincial governments were “fully supportive” of lifting the “reportable” status for bluetongue and removing bluetongue import restrictions on U.S. livestock.

Alberta Beef Producers was quoted as saying “the risk bluetongue poses to Canada’s livestock industry is insignificant compared to the damages due to the restriction of normalized trade with the U.S.”

The Manitoba Cattle Producers Association, meanwhile, “believes that the CFIA’s research related to bluetongue — in addition to protecting the health of livestock — will also help to resolve some of the long-standing trade issues between Canada and the U.S.”

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