From the Editor: September 2013
Everything Works, in Theory
By Lianne Appleby
In 2003, I was looking forward to a visit from my Long Lost Uncle, who lives somewhere on the south part of New Zealand’s north island. I had only ever met him once, when I could barely form a sentence, so the whole thing was much anticipated.
It never happened though.
Not because there was an untimely crisis on his part, or because someone in my immediate family suddenly died or fell ill. It was because the chance of falling ill deterred him from visiting Canada. Yes, that’s right . . . he cancelled the trip because of the SARS outbreak in the Greater Toronto Area.
Sure, I’d heard the media talking about the rising number of cases and the inability to keep the virus contained, but it was still something that couldn’t affect me – until my uncle cancelled his trip. Surely, if someone was missing out on the chance to visit this great country (and me), they must be reasonably concerned about the health risk. My uncle is a smart man, so if he chose to abort his trip, what did that mean for my family – all of us apparently flirting with death an hour away from the epicentre?
You can form your own opinion of how the media covers certain stories, and whether the coverage is warranted or simply the result of a slow news day. Was SARS really as serious as all that? My uncle thought so.
What then when it comes to the current avian influenza outbreaks in China, or Arkansas? Are you following those stories closely? Have you stepped up your on-farm biosecurity in order to protect your birds and your livelihood? Or, like me in 2003, are you thinking that the H blank N blanks always happen somewhere else, so there is no need for alarm?
Farmers, it has to be said, are famous for the “it won’t happen here” attitude. Someone high up in the federal government once dismissed bovine spongiform encephalopathy as something that “would never happen in Canada,” and we know how that one turned out. When avian influenza hit British Columbia in 2004, poultry producers in other provinces did pay attention, but how many actually changed their daily routines – honestly?
In late May of this year, it was reported that the H7N9 strain of avian influenza seems to develop resistance to Tamiflu, the main flu drug, and is already resistant to the only other classes of flu drugs – the adamantanes. We’re not just talking animal health with these viruses, we’re talking human health too – and that does catch the attention of the media.
Consider this: In the first quarter of 2013, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority saw 1,068,785 international passengers enplaned and deplaned. At the end of 2012, that total was 34,912,029. Those stats are for just one Canadian international airport.
I wonder how many applicable persons actually say “yes” when asked by Border Services if they’ve recently been to a farm or will go to one in Canada? I wonder how many people have said no, and then come to your barn’s open house or simply popped into the same coffee shop as you?
If you think about the human traffic that enters Canada from countries like China, which are experiencing outbreaks of poultry diseases, and those little white lies to the customs officer, the need for proper biosecurity protocols – and for firm compliance – is a no-brainer.