Counting our chicken, livestock farms

Producers to register operations in event of health crises

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Manitoba is requiring all livestock and poultry producers to register their farms to help authorities quickly deal with animal and public health emergencies and even natural disasters, such as flooding.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/10/2010 (4451 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba is requiring all livestock and poultry producers to register their farms to help authorities quickly deal with animal and public health emergencies and even natural disasters, such as flooding.

The initiative, which is being replicated in other provinces, is also seen as a key component in developing a national food traceability program that will assure wary consumers — here and abroad — that what they eat is safe.

“We need to assure our markets that we’ve taken the steps to secure our food and that people won’t end up being sick if they eat what we produce,” Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers said Thursday.

MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ‘It’s very disruptive to the producers caught up within it, but much better than if (a disease) just continues to spread throughout the province or throughout the region’ — dairy farmer David Wiens (left), on the quarantine programs

The province is compelling an estimated 20,000 farm owners and operators to supply their legal land location and emergency contact information as well as the types of animals they keep on their property. Other businesses that handle animals, from hatcheries and rendering plants to petting zoos and veterinary hospitals, will also have to register their premises.

One of the program’s primary benefits will be to allow authorities to act quickly to limit the scope and harm from a serious animal disease outbreak. In the case of avian flu, for instance, officials would immediately be able to pinpoint the location of all the province’s poultry operations. An outbreak in British Columbia in 2004 forced the destruction of flocks on 1,000 commercial and ‘backyard’ farms.

“When you don’t know where the farms are and you don’t know what’s on the farms, it really hamstrings you in terms of being able to mount a disease control effort,” said Dr. Wayne Lees, Manitoba’s chief veterinary officer.

Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council, said food traceability is the wave of the future. And the provincial hog industry, with its huge dependence on foreign markets, heartily endorses the initiative. “In the pork industry alone, 13,000 to 15,000 Manitobans depend upon our sector for their livelihood,” he said, adding a serious animal-disease outbreak could result in “huge layoffs.”

The province has created an emergency operations centre within the agricultural services complex at the University of Manitoba that will be the hub for dealing with any large animal-disease breakout and other potential emergencies involving poultry and livestock production. The large room also serves as a training centre.

Controlling animal-disease outbreaks also has a public health benefit as some animal diseases are risky to humans, said Chris Green, a provincial epidemiologist and biometrician.

“The majority of newly emerging infectious diseases which affect humans originate in animals,” Green said Thursday.

It’s important to minimize the spread of these diseases, he said, since you never know when the disease will jump from animals to humans.

Proponents of the database say it could help emergency personnel identify farms where cattle are at risk from spring floods or contain problems caused by contaminated livestock feed.

Farm organizations are generally supportive of the new premises ID program, and some sectors, such as the provincial hog industry, already have a considerable number of farms signed up.

David Wiens, chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, said the registry is an important tool in controlling potential disease outbreaks that have devastated whole industries in other countries.

“It’s very disruptive to the producers caught up within it,” he said of quarantine programs that would be aided by the premises ID program, “but much better than if (a disease) just continues to spread throughout the province or throughout the region.”

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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