Canada is ramping up its efforts to contain the African plague that is ravaging the pork industry

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The biggest threat to Canada’s pork industry is one that has yet to come.

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African swine fever has hit 74 countries since 2005, with four countries reporting their first cases in 2022 alone. If the disease reaches Canada, the pork sector will shut down overnight, as the industry exports 70 percent of what it produces.

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Alberta Pork board member and treasurer Martin Weldner said some estimates show the industry shrinking to 15 to 20 percent of its current size because of the excess pork Canada will suddenly have.

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“The Alberta hog industry would bring it to our knees,” said Weldner, manager of Heartland Colony’s hog operations for 23 years.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta exported $579,837,485 worth of pork and pork products in 2021, compared to more than $5.7 billion domestically.

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African swine fever does not pose a risk to humans and is not a food safety issue, but it is highly contagious and has a high mortality rate among domestic, commercial and wild pigs.

Canadian livestock producers have previously experienced the nightmare of disease entering a highly exported animal population.

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In 2003, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, was discovered in an Alberta cow. The US immediately closed the border to Canadian beef and cattle, and a large part of the international market quickly followed suit. The 49th parallel was closed for more than two years, costing producers billions of dollars, destroying the national herd and forcing many producers out of the industry altogether.

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The beef sector is still not fully recovered.

African swine fever could be even more devastating due to the pig’s reproductive cycle – a sow can give birth to 11-13 piglets up to three times a year – its viral nature and pressure on the processing sector. international customers. With the world facing increasing food shortages, the price would drop and many producers would be forced out of the industry.

“New piglets are born every week, pigs have to be sent to market every week, and that’s the room most farms will have,” Weldner said. “In the pork industry, the maximum time you could stop shipping animals would be five to six days. Affected areas should immediately begin looking at some form of euthanasia, even in an unaffected area.

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The impacts will affect every industry that touches the sector beyond producers, from vets to feed companies, transport companies and abattoirs.

African swine fever can be difficult to control because of the way it spreads.

The disease is extremely persistent and can survive in processed pork products. There are fears that affected products imported by Canada could be consumed by wild boar or wild boar if disposed of properly. What needs to happen is that animal comes into contact with a pig on a commercial or hobby farm.

For many, it would be game over.

The federal government learned a lesson from the mad cow that didn’t start in Canada. But at the time, global lessons were ignored and the industry was forced to react with changes to controls and feed regulations when it was too late.

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The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Marie-Claude Bibeau, recently announced $45.3 million in funding to combat African swine fever.

“I think it’s one of the top priorities,” he said. “The first part is really prevention and preparation. And then we continue to cooperate with provinces and industry.”

The minister has been working on the issue since he was given the portfolio 3½ years ago and noted that the government had previously worked with the US.

In particular, Animal Health Canada 2018 has representatives from all over the country and the Chief Veterinarian of Alberta, Dr. Initiated a national African swine fever project with representatives from a wide range of related sectors, including Keith Lehman.

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Canada currently has regionalization agreements with the U.S. that will help expedite the reopening of trade should one occur. Officers work on others. This means that instead of stopping trade for years after African swine flu is detected, it will be weeks or months after the problem is isolated.

More than $23 million is earmarked for prevention and mitigation efforts within the industry through biosecurity assessments, feral pig management, slaughterhouse improvements, sector analysis and related research projects.

Weldner emphasized the biosecurity controls currently in place in commercial operations, and if African swine fever came to Canada, it would be highly unlikely that a commercial warehouse would be the site of infection.

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Another $19.8 million is intended to support the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, increased laboratory capacity and zoning arrangements with trading partners, and to fund international efforts to combat African swine fever – including work on a vaccine for Canadian farms.

Efforts and interest in a vaccine surged in 2018 when the fever appeared in China, but Lehman said a vaccine is not close to being on the market and there is no silver bullet for prevention in this case.

The challenge is to develop a strategy to distinguish vaccinated from infected animals to show that the exported pork or pig is positive for vaccination and not for infection.

“Would you use it if you weren’t sick? Probably not,” said Alberta’s top veterinarian. “Would you use it when you start seeing the first signs of an outbreak? Yes, potentially. If you have significant enough signs of an epidemic, that probably makes it easier to answer the question in terms of yes.”

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While funding allocations have not been confirmed at this point, Winnipeg’s CFIA lab will likely see the largest share of that funding, although two Alberta labs will also see increased funding to improve testing capacity.

Gary Stordy, director of government and corporate affairs for the Canadian Pork Board, said investment to improve controls is critical, not least to build trust and transparency in the system.

“From a producer’s perspective, if we can demonstrate that we have maintained a situation or spread (to other regions) that allows movement of animals and export of meat,” he said.

The final $2.1 million is to strengthen Canada Border Services Agency border controls to prevent undeclared pork products from entering Canada.

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Weldner said funding for prevention is “desperately needed,” but he also wants to see a plan to protect producers and ensure the necessary measures are taken to protect livestock if a case is found in Canada. Those discussions are ongoing.

“The biggest fear is that, especially for some farms that have exhausted their credit limit, the bank will immediately say they can’t lend more,” he said. “There is an emergency that the federal government needs to provide financial support to these producers to pay for the feed that is still needed every day to feed these animals so that they don’t end up with animal welfare issues.”

jaldrich@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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