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New act takes aim at spread of diseases

A provincial animal health act will hopefully prevent the spread of disease and at the same time, minimize the economic fallout to farmers in the case of an outbreak, say industry supporters.

The proposed Animal Health Act was introduced Oct. 5 and given a second reading at Queen’s Park this week.

“We’ve been pushing for this act for some time in order for both industry and government to be in a better position to react to a hazard or a disease outbreak,” said Gordon Coukell, chair of the Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council.

Proposed new provinical legislation would allow for quicker reaction in the event of a disease outbreak in livestock and poultry herds. It will also allow for better tracking of animals, such as these that passed through the Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs.
Proposed new provinical legislation would allow for quicker reaction in the event of a disease outbreak in livestock and poultry herds. It will also allow for better tracking of animals, such as these that passed through the Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs.

“All of us have large investments in our livestock and poultry herds today and if something does happen, you want to be able to contain it in as small an area as possible. We think this will help us do that and minimize the economic impact as well as the disease impact.”

This specific act has been in the works for the past three years, but there have been calls for an animal health act in Ontario going back two or three decades. Ontario, which has the country’s largest poultry industry, second-largest dairy and swine industries and third-largest beef industry, is the only province which doesn’t have its own animal health legislation.

That’s not to say that Ontario had no animal health legislation whatsoever, noted Bruce McNab, veterinary epidemiologist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The federal animal health act has always applied to Ontario, but it is more specifically focused on international trade and the 32 federally reportable diseases.

If passed, the Ontario act would apply to broader situations and cases where it’s not immediately clear that a federally reportable disease is involved.

“The heart of it and the main intent of it is new at the provincial level in Ontario,” McNab said.

The act includes measures to prevent, detect and contain the spread of disease, through inspections, quarantines, restrictions on movement of livestock and destruction of animals.

“It allows cooperation and it allows inspectors to order cease movements so that livestock can’t be moved in a certain control area while we determine if in fact there is a disease,” Coukell said. “That’s the key – if you have something and you keep moving livestock around, you’re going to spread it very quickly.”

The bill itself is very broad; it’s a piece of enabling legislation which will serve as a framework for specific regulations that will contain the details.

It’s that lack of detail that has concerned groups like the National Farmers Union, which has called for more transparency and clarity on some provisions of the act.

Farmers need not be concerned because they will be involved in working out the details of those specific regulations, McNab said.

“We have committed to working with industry in development of the details of those regulations.”

An industry advisory committee will be part of the discussion process on regulations, Coukell said. There is no timeline for when the bill might pass, but the Livestock and Poultry Council is encouraging government to move forward quickly.

“It won’t put any more onus on farmers than is there today, but it will enable industry and government to react if there is suspicion of disease, foreign animal disease or any other hazard which could endanger our livestock.”

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