CANADA and the U.S. have entered into a groundbreaking agreement to recognize each other's zoning measures when it comes to outbreaks of contagious animal diseases.
It will mean in the event of future localized outbreaks of animal diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), trade in live animals or animal parts from areas outside the affected area will be able to carry on.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the new agreement, announced Wednesday in Winnipeg, could protect hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, in trade.
"It will help prevent or limit highly contagious animal disease from spreading from one country to the other and at the same time the agreements avoid unnecessary trade disruption and protect livestock herds," Ritz said.
He said if such an agreement had been in place in 2003 when there was an outbreak of BSE in Western Canada, it might have allowed trade in cattle and beef from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada to continue.
"We have a choke point in Canada at West Hawk Lake. That is our critical zoning point," Ritz said. "If this agreement was in place in 2003, there would have been no reason to close out Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada for shipments of beef into the U.S."
The agreement is part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan initiative between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama. It is one of 29 different regulatory co-operative initiatives being worked on between the two countries.
Ian Alexander, Canada's chief veterinary officer, said, "In practical terms, the detection of animal disease on one side of the border will not automatically trigger long-term border closures for particular animals or food commodities."
He said there is still some number of months of work remaining to finalize the details of the plan.
Cam Dahl, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers, praised the agreement.
"It is very good news," he said. "Hopefully it will not have to be used, but if something did arise, it could be worth billions."