Saturday, January 15, 2011

Scrapie quarantine on BC sheep farms lifted - Now What?

CSF and Minister Ritz make announcement
Last February Canada's agriculture minister Gerry Ritz announced that $4.5 million was to be spent from the Agriculture Canada AgriFlexibility fund to study the prevalence of scrapie (a neurological disorder) in our Canadian flock and then establish an eradication plan. The presence of scrapie has reduced our access to foreign markets, especially into the US.

According to a very recent news release from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) , cases of scrapie have been increasing , notably in Eastern Canada - and all producers have to be aware and on alert for symptoms in their own flocks. This is particularly important in British Columbia flocks that buy breeding stock from provinces that have scrapie. I do not know if this increase is due to greater awareness, but I do know that the Alberta flock that was linked to the BC cases was part of a voluntary scrapie surveillance program and that is how the scrapie was identified there. For the past several years, slaughter plants and some producers have been participating in this program, which no doubt has increased the number of confirmed cases.

> The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is urging sheep and goat producers to
> submit suspicious cases for scrapie testing as the number of confirmed cases
> in Canada is up to a level not seen since 2003.
> Eleven sheep flocks were confirmed to have seen cases of the reportable
> disease as of Nov. 30, up from six in all of 2009.
> Of the 11, six were in flocks in Quebec, two in Alberta, two in Ontario and
> one in Saskatchewan. Of those, the Saskatchewan case and one in Ontario were
> found to be "atypical" scrapie.
> CFIA said it would like to test any mature animals (12 months and older)
> that die on the farm or show unexplained weight loss, problems standing or
> walking, or changes in behaviour.
> Producers can call the CFIA at 800-442-2342 to arrange to have a sample
> taken for testing. The agency noted it covers the costs of testing samples
> under the program, and that producers could also be eligible for
> compensation for animals ordered destroyed due to a scrapie diagnosis.

I just received my Country Life in BC, a monthly farm newspaper, which was the first time I had heard about the link to BC from an Alberta case, and the eventual ruling out of any positive scrapie cases in BC. This would be expected in an effective traceability system, in that the links between flocks and their movements would be part of any disease surveillance and eradication program. The CFIA communicates with the Canadian Sheep Federation on these issues, for communication to the provincial associations.

As BC's representative on the Canadian Sheep Federation board, I am given regular updates on the scrapie situation across Canada, and no cases have been identified in BC to date . BC has been free of scrapie since 1949, when records were first kept. The purebred breeders in BC have been on the forefront of scrapie eradication since 2004 through selection for resistant breeding stock by the genotyping of DNA for resistance to scrapie. There is a program in place now, with another two years partly funded through the BC Sheep Industry Development fund to subsidize a blood typing program. Once a flock is genotyped, offspring can be selected carrying the resistant genotype to use for breeding and carrying the resistance over to their off spring. An “RR” Ram, will provide resistance to Scrapie for every lamb they produce! Rams carrying resistant genes are available from most purebred breeders in BC. Selection of genetics that will make the purebred seed stock resistant to typical scrapie is a proactive approach that has been beneficial to the entire sheep industry in BC, from the small purebred flock to the larger commercial flocks.

As further support, CSF has established Scrapie Canada and on the Scrapie Canada website is information on scrapie surveillance, genotyping, laboratories, producer certification programs, and veterinary accreditation.

At the Canadian Sheep Federation meeting in Calgary in 2010, Bev Greenwell of the BC Sheep Federation  met and interviewed a producer who was impacted by scrapie trace-back and she wrote an article in our industry journal, the N'Ewes, published by the BC Sheep Federation. Her article is titled "The Human Side of Scrapie:What really happens when C.F.I.A come knocking on your door with apositive scrapie sample?". Bev is also the editor of the N'Ewes and just completed a three year term as BCSF President. Taking the experience of the producer in Bev's article and the article in Country Life, it would appear that CFIA is taking a heavy handed approach with affected producers, who are no doubt distressed at the potential destruction of their flock. It is hard not to feel helpless reading these cases after the fact, when I am on various farm boards  intended to represent sheep producers. I understand that the CFIA must respect privacy of the producer, but there should be some way to communicate to industry associations who can in turn support producers who are going through this.

Sheep made from phones - a sheep phone?
Perhaps the BC Sheep Federation website should have a Help Line for producers going through undue stress like CFIA quarantines.

The BC Sheep Federation sent a letter to the Honourable Ben Stewart, BC Minister of Agriculture, and received a reply from the Assistant Deputy Minister Lindsay Kislock indicating that the BC Industry Specialist for Small Ruminants who retired last fall is not going to be replaced because of a “limited allocation of resources”. Sheep producers do not have extension services or a government specialist to turn to, and the industry associations are volunteer-run, with some regions of the province under-represented and only a small fraction of the producers as members of associations. With the BC Animal Health Policy Consultation now underway, it is apparent that more extension and education for sheep producers is needed so that they are aware of their responsibilities for flock health and regulatory requirements, and have the resources they need to maintain healthy flocks. Both Alberta and Ontario are provinces that are ahead of BC in their animal health policies, but then both provinces have outstanding extension services and educational support for their sheep producers.

All of this at a time when there is unprecedented demand for local lamb, where is the support we need?

No comments:

Post a Comment