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Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council breaks new ground in its first year

breaks new ground in its first year


January 15, 2008
By Marilyn White

Topics

2004 AI simulation exercise reveals significant need for unified voice amongst
provincial poultry and livestock groups   

The food animal industry knows that it is increasingly threatened by contagious animal disease, the ‘when-not-if’ scenario.  

That’s why all commodity groups have a shared responsibility to develop and practice Crisis Management Plans. The Ontario poultry industry did just that by developing and testing their Crisis Management Plan in October, 2004 when the four feather boards and their members participated in the first Avian Influenza disease simulation.

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The two people instrumental in bringing that simulation about were Deborah Whale, chair of the Poultry Industry Council (PIC), and Dr. Jim Pettit, a consultant working with the PIC.  Their combined efforts assisted the Ontario poultry industry in developing a Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) Emergency Preparedness Program.  

“We spent a lot of time struggling with the simulation and when it was all over and done with, we realized that we had done something no one else in Canada had done, and that it had worked.  The PIC worked with the four feather boards and encouraged them to work together as one,” said Pettit. 

The exercise pointed out a number of holes, particularly in the service sectors, and also at the processor level, said Whale. “However, we now had a system that would work in birds,” she said. 

But in the three years that they had worked with the poultry industry on the simulation, they came to realize that there were some very significant problems facing animal agriculture in Ontario.

Several major issues were identified
• Unlike other provinces in Canada, Ontario does not have an Animal Health Act (AHA).
• To give the Chief Veterinarian of Ontario (CVO) authority, under a provincial AHA, the lead role in the event of an animal health or related food safety emergency in Ontario prior to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency accepting responsibility.

• The Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) at the University of Guelph is in desperate need of a financial infusion to bring it up to acceptable levels in order to deal with a disease outbreak. It needs to be able to operate at a Level 3, which would allow it to work with infectious diseases safely.

• Farmers need some kind of assistance program to deal with the financial burden of an infectious disease outbreak; an insurance program would fit the bill.

• To maintain a relationship with the Canadian Animal Health Coalition (CAHC) and build the strong provincial and national links necessary to support animal programs.

• Address confidentiality issues. Current restrictions will delay government and industry response to disease outbreaks.

• Investigate and evaluate methods for humane euthanasia and disposal of animals in the event of a disease outbreak.

Whale and Pettit knew they would need to push the industry further and expand their vision. But they were faced with a hard sell when they wanted to bring these shortcomings to the attention of government. 

“The bird industry was so small in comparison to livestock agriculture that we couldn’t get anyone’s attention. We were faced with a ‘that’s very nice, now go away’ attitude,” said Pettit.

But they didn’t go away. Instead, in the two months following the 2004 simulation, they toured several of the commodity boards and invited them to participate on a new organization that they were planning – the Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council (OLPC).
“The idea was that we would form a group that would focus, not just on poultry health, but on animal health and the prevention and mitigation of disease outbreaks,” said Pettit.  “It wouldn’t be limited to FAD.  It could also cover other diseases such as ILT, Johne’s Disease, Salmonellosis and possibly other hazards, such as major contamination of products.”

 The commodity groups soon realized the benefit of having one loud voice to speak up for their needs. “In a very short time, we had most of the livestock groups on side and contributing funding,” he said. 

By January 2005, the OLPC was formed. Whale asked Pettit to sign on as co-chair, representing the poultry sectors. Gordon Coukell, chairman of the National Farm Animal Care Council and past chairman of Dairy Farmers of Ontario was asked to represent the livestock sectors as the other co-chair. The council currently consists of 15 livestock groups and four associate members (see box). 

OLPC soon had the attention of both the federal and provincial governments. In April 2005, they were asked to meet with these governments to discuss a five-year strategic plan that would include the OLPC.

The appropriate people were now listening. Just one year old, the OLPC has made huge strides.      

The OLPC now assumes responsibility for simulation exercises, to be conducted annually.  It ran the 2005 simulation, which took place during the week of December 12th.  This test involved the dairy and veal industries in a simulated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak, with collateral damage to the poultry and pork industries.

The disease scenario was created by the Design Team, and the Audit Team tracked how the disease was handled. The four feather boards have been instrumental in assisting the livestock boards in their development of internal Emergency Response Plans, similar to those already developed by the poultry industry. 

The results of 2005 simulation will be discussed at the new Livestock and Poultry Conference, scheduled for April 6, 2006 in Kitchener, Ontario.  It will be hosted by the OLPC. This conference is expected to become an annual event that will address issues surrounding food animal agriculture including diseases, biosecurity, Emergency Response Plans, and disease insurance for the industry. Experts from the United States and Canada have been invited to give presentations on humane euthanasia and carcass disposal at the first conference.

“We need to have workable disposal plans in place that can accommodate all livestock sectors prior to an emergency situation, rather than scrambling to find ways during the crisis,” said Whale. 

Planning for the 2006 simulation is already underway and is expected to involve Quebec and Ontario in a cross-border poultry disease exercise.

OLPC continues to push for an Animal Health Act and, with the addition of the Office of the Chief Veterinarian of Ontario, support for the new CVO, which includes the development of a provincial AHA.  Ontario is currently the only province in Canada without an AHA, which slows down the response time in the early stages of an emergency. 

The AHL also needs the funding to become a state-of-the-art facility; one that can conduct active surveillance in the field necessary to identify potential problems and the increase in sample testing in the event of an outbreak. OLPC has gained ground on lobbying financial support for the lab. “We’ve been informed that funding for the lab looks good,” said Pettit.
“Discussion on an industry insurance program is also heating up,” said Whale. When the topic of insurance was first proposed, the task looked daunting. Currently, there are no insurance programs available to cover disease losses in livestock agriculture. The OLPC brought together several insurance-related organizations for discussions, and industry is excited about the possibilities.

The OLPC is also assisting the Canadian Animal Health Coalition in the first phase of a multi-stage project to assess on-farm risks and risk mitigation.  Industry representatives will work in collaboration with CAHC in developing a Phase-1 discussion paper leading to a possible pilot project in Ontario. The information collected from this study will lead to discussions with insurance companies on an insurance program for those segments of livestock agriculture that successfully decrease or eliminate disease risks.

The issue surrounding confidentiality is next on OLPC’s agenda. A workshop is being planned for 2006 with the hope that legal representatives from all levels of government and industry can be brought together to discuss the problems associated with current confidentiality restrictions. “The disease can be spreading across the province while we try and convince government to tell us farm locations,” said Whale.

 “The OLPC has given the provincial boards a strong and unified voice for livestock agriculture,” said Pettit.  “This voice can reach provincial and federal governments, and it allows them to talk about areas that single boards wouldn’t be able to handle themselves.”
“Down the road, we’re looking at an LPC in every province,” he said.  

Marilyn White is Manager of Research, Education and Communication with the Poultry Industry Council, 483 Arkell Rd., Guelph, Ontario, N1H 6H8.
OLPC is located at 483 Arkell Rd., Guelph, Ontario, N1H 6H8. Tel: 519-837-0284.