By Trevor Busch
After the presence of bovine tuberculosis was detected in a cow shipped to the U.S., more than 30 ranches near CFB Suffield remain under quarantine as Canadian food safety officials continue to test for the disease.
Addressing the issue in the House of Commons on Nov. 1, Bow River MP Martin Shields questioned the government about a hard timeline on when cattle producers can expect to have the present quarantines lifted.
“Mr. Speaker, ranchers in southern Alberta are reeling from a recent outbreak of bovine tuberculosis, and there is no resolution in sight. CFIA has been on the ground investigating, but there is no clear answer on how long it will be before the quarantines are lifted. In difficult economic times, ranchers need to know when they can get their cattle to market. They get one payday a year. What will the Minister of Health do to ensure that there are enough inspectors on the ground to get answers as soon as possible, to limit the economic losses for these farm families?”
Bovine TB is a chronic, contagious bacterial disease that in advanced stages presents as weight loss, fever and hacking cough. It can spread to humans, according to a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) fact sheet, though that is considered rare in countries like Canada which have eradication programs. The United States Department of Agriculture reported the case of bovine TB to Canada in September after the disease was found in a slaughtered cow from a ranch near Jenner, Alta., located northeast of Brooks.
Jean-Claude Poissant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, was non-committal in responding to Shields’ desire for a timeline on the matter.
“Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to protecting the health of Canadian families and of animals. To meet that commitment our department is investigating the matter. As a control measure we have restricted the movement of all animals that could be affected. In all cases of reportable disease, the objective is to minimize the impact on our producers while respecting our domestic and international obligations.”
MP John Barlow, representing the riding of Foothills, demanded more answers from the Trudeau government regarding when they can expect to see progress on the issue, as farm families have been left in limbo.
“Mr. Speaker, more than 30 ranch families in southern Alberta are facing devastating news: they cannot sell their cattle. This could not have happened at a worse possible time. They have fall contracts, but this quarantine is preventing them from selling their calves. Ranch families in southern Alberta are facing more than $5 million in losses, but this will reverberate throughout the industry. Processing plants, feedlots, and trucking companies in southern Alberta will all feel the impact. Time is of the essence on this issue. What action is the minister taking to help the cattle ranchers in southern Alberta?”
Poissant was still unwilling to be pinned down to any time frame, but stated the government was taking all appropriate measures to address the issue.
“As I just stated, as a control measure we are restricting the movement of all animals that could be affected. In all cases of reportable disease, the objective is to minimize the impact on our producers while respecting our domestic and international obligations. We are taking appropriate action to protect the health of Canadians and Canadian livestock, while retaining access to our international markets.”
Bovine TB is a reportable disease in Canada and has been subject to a mandatory national eradication program since 1923. The CFIA indicates Canada is considered to be officially free of the disease, although isolated cases may occur.
The most recent case of bovine TB detected in Canada was five years ago in British Columbia. Livestock producers are eligible for compensation if animals are ordered to be destroyed.
More recent reports have indicated the CFIA’s investigation has expanded into southwestern Saskatchewan, where other ranches have now been quarantined pending inspection.