Foot-and-mouth disease strategy crucial for Canada and cattle feeders

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious virus that can affect cattle, sheep and swine. When an outbreak hits any livestock producer’s operation, the results can be devastating, with the potential for entire herds, or even an industry, to be decimated.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA), is concerned that Canada is not sufficiently prepared for an outbreak. This needs to be addressed by both the Canadian government and our own industry.

“The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association and the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) are continuing to elevate the importance of readiness for a foot and mouth disease outbreak in Canada,” said Bryan Walton, ACFA’s president and CEO. “One crucial aspect is access to a vaccine, and a policy around vaccination for FMD in Canada.”

In March 2018, a delegation of government and industry representatives, including Bryan Walton and Ryan Thompson, visited Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) in Lyon, France, to learn more about its production capabilities for an FMD vaccine.

“FMD is a serious issue, so it was good to have an industry-government delegation in Lyon, to see the facility and talk about the path forward,” said Ryan Thompson, NCFA board chair. “We all need to work together to make sure our members are able to have a strategy to deal with an outbreak.”

Some background

The North American FMD Vaccine Bank is a resource jointly administered by commissioners from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. However, the U.S. is seeking government funding to create a ‘US only’ vaccine bank because, in today’s intensive livestock industry, they see it as the only way to ensure their producers have access to the required number of vaccines, regardless of strain. There is concern that with their own private resource, their support for the North American bank will diminish.

If Canada does not take similar measures it puts the entire beef industry at risk.

Boehringer Ingelheim has the technology to produce sufficient quantities of an effective, DIVA-compliant (Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals) FMD vaccine – potentially within five days of receiving the request.

Next steps

“The meeting has triggered strong interest among both industry and government leaders, in looking at the greater use of vaccination strategies in Canada’s livestock industry, in the event of an FMD outbreak,” said Bryan. “Greater use of vaccination would require several other strategies to be fully and effectively implemented by industry — like an immediate ‘voluntary cease movement’ – also referred to as a 48 or 72-hour standstill – and use of packing plants to slaughter for disposal rather than consumption.”

Vaccination would greatly reduce the need for a ‘stamping out’ strategy, involving mass depopulation and disposal. That would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement in larger operations, and is increasingly considered unacceptable by the general public.

“A very pertinent question for Canada relates to how we re-gain FMD-free status after the deployment of the vaccine,” continued Bryan. “It is most likely that the process of regaining FMD free status in Canada or North America, as recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health, OIE, would take a year or more from the incidence of an outbreak. This will depend in part on whether the control measures involve ‘stamping out’, which would enable faster recognition, or vaccination, which would result in a longer time for recognition. It is important to note that once OIE recognition of FMD-free status is obtained, it would take longer still to re-establish market share.”

Industry members and government have set up a meeting for April 20, 2018, to begin discussion of a ‘made in Canada’ FMD vaccination strategy, taking into account what that would require from both industry and government.

FMD is just one of ACFA’s initiatives aimed at helping beef producers raise healthy animals in a low-stress environment. You can learn about other actions being taken in ‘Animal health initiatives from Alberta’s cattle feeders’.