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The Back Page: September 2013

How Much Longer? Questions From the Back Seat


August 22, 2013
By Roy Maxwell

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Whenever you are on a long road trip, checking the rearview mirror or odometer to appreciate how far you have come can often provide a psychological lift. This is particularly true if you have kids in the back who repeatedly ask if you’re almost there. The answer is usually “not quite yet.” The road to biosecurity is similar. It’s a long haul and we have come a long way, but we aren’t quite there yet.

It is difficult to say when biosecurity began, because farmers have been practicing basic biosecurity for a long time. However, using a combination of science-based biosecurity practices is relatively new. For Ontario chicken farmers, it began in the late 1990s when two projects were happening simultaneously in the industry. One was the introduction of the On-Farm Food Safety Assurance Program (OFFSAP) and the other was the creation of Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s Emergency Management and Crisis Communications Plan. The two went hand in hand with respect to disease control, and, today, you can add traceability to the mix.

For Ian Richardson, it began in Ottawa at a meeting of the National Avian Biosecurity Advisory Council, following the avian influenza outbreak of 2004 in British Columbia. Richardson is president of e-Biz Professionals Inc. and recognizes that biosecurity has come a long way, but that it was not always a smooth road. With respect to compliance, Richardson talks about an adoption curve and describes pioneers in biosecurity and emergency preparedness as cheerleaders.

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“Cheerleaders don’t make things happen, but they raise consciousness and then the adopters pick it up,” he says. “Agriculture is impacted a lot by government programs, so the question is often asked: should these practices be voluntary or mandatory?”

Regardless of the answer, I believe biosecurity in the agri-food industry will be an easier sell in the future because the federal government and provincial governments, along with the Canadian agri-food industry, understand the importance of biosecurity from both an economic and a public health perspective.

 To explain my optimism, let me refer to a 2013 biosecurity project in Ontario, funded by the Agricultural Adaptation Council which demonstrates how far biosecurity has come. Ten years ago, few people would have predicted there would be a biosecurity initiative for agricultural fairs, but there is. Mark Beaven is the general manager of the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies and he is in charge of providing biosecurity tips and guidelines to organizers and volunteers at more than 200 Ontario fairs. Beaven believes farmers are very aware of the relationship between livestock, poultry and people, but is not so sure they appreciate the importance of biosecurity at fairs.

Remember, there can be a lot of poultry at agricultural fairs, including birds that various commodity boards use to communicate with visitors about poultry and egg farming. Last year, a number of people became ill after attending fairs or swine shows in the United States. The swine virus was zoonotic, meaning it could jump to humans. Nobody wants that to happen to fair-goers in Canada.

The biosecurity tips and guidelines project for Ontario fairs, which began in January and finishes this fall, is designed to inform fair organizers, volunteers and visitors how to reduce the chances of getting sick, and explain the important role people play in preventing the potential transmission of animal and poultry viruses. Educational material will include fact sheets, signage, hand-washing stations and the like.

Beaven, who is also the executive director of the Canadian Animal Health Coalition, has spent more than 20 years in the poultry and livestock sectors. He says, “It is not just about people getting sick from animals; it’s also about animals getting sick from people and from other animals.”

Information about the tips and guidelines project for Ontario fairs has been made available to the public on several occasions, but Beaven doubts it gets much air time at local coffee shops. He encourages poultry and livestock farmers to contact their local agricultural society to provide welcomed input and suggestions.

So, yes, biosecurity is coming to a fair near you, which shows just how far the industry has come. But, like that kid in the back seat, I can’t resist asking if we are almost there. The answer is, “No, but we are headed in the right direction and making good time.

“We’ll be there soon.”


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