Initially confined to small farm holdings in Africa when first discovered in the early 1900s, the deadly pig disease African Swine Fever (ASF) began its spread across the world in 2018 when it hit China, which until the outbreak reared around half the world’s pigs.
ASF is one of the most severe viral diseases of pigs. It has now reached multiple countries in Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the Pacific. The virus has a devastating effect on pigs. It causes terrible suffering and kills over 95% of those infected. Clinically the disease is characterized by high fever, bleeding of internal organs, weakness and difficulty standing, vomiting and diarrhea, and difficulty breathing. Yet, when ASF is talked about, it’s generally spoken of in terms of its monetary impact and threat to trade rather that its horrific impact on animals.
Although ASF has not yet been found in Canada or the U.S., most believe it’s just a matter of time. In Canada, ASF is a reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act, which means that all suspected cases must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
The federal government has been developing a program to prevent and manage ASF for some time. Last week, it finally presented its proposed program in a webinar hosted not just by the CFIA but also the Canadian Pork Council. Titled “Canada’s National Compartmentalization Program (NCP) for African Swine Fever”, the opening slide presented the names of the two speakers: Dr. Egan Brockhoff of the Canadian Pork Council (CPC) and Dr. Penny Greenwood of the CFIA, but featured just the CPC logo. The absence of the CFIA logo proved representative of the program itself which was described by the presenters as a “a private/public partnership established and managed by the private sector”. You read that correctly. Instead of taking the lead and being the regulator that it is supposed to be, the CFIA is putting the pig industry itself in charge of not only developing the program but also managing and enforcing it.
According to Dr. Brockhoff of the CPC the program is “based on a trust-based relationship with the federal veterinary authority (ie. the CFIA)” and that’s “what really excites us”. All elements of the program – from the establishment of the mortality thresholds that must be reached before testing occurs to the decisions on how to handle farms in critical non-compliance – will be developed and enforced by the CPC.
Viewers of the webinar were reassured that there will be third party auditors, but they won’t be from the CFIA either. Instead, they will be hired and overseen by the CPC. Oh, and the entire program is voluntary.
According to Dr. Greenwood, the CFIA will be reviewing the program to ensure it meets national standards, but only because it has to. When asked by a viewer during the question-and-answer period if a program managed and enforced by industry would even be recognized by other countries, Dr. Greenwood responded that CFIA’s verification of the program was in fact a requirement of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to meet international trade standards.
Given Canada’s status as a major exporter of pork (Canada is the world’s 3rd largest exporter of pork and live pigs), the industry has a vested interest in trying to keep ASF out. But that doesn’t mean it should be given powers that normally reside with a federal enforcement body, especially where a reportable disease that causes such immense animal suffering is involved.
The industrial production of meat with its intensive confinement of immunologically-compromised, nearly genetically identical animals into filthy, dark sheds created the conditions necessary to develop and spread diseases like ASF. Animals live in a continued state of stress from over-crowding, intensive confinement, rough handling and painful practices. The industry responsible for these conditions should not be the one to police them. The CFIA must take responsibility and fulfill its mandate to safeguard animal health.
The proposed National Compartmentalization Program is open for public comment until June 16, 2022. One of the “key themes for discussion” is “the roles and responsibilities outlined in the framework”. If you would like to remind the CFIA of its role and responsibility to protect animals as an enforcement agency, please submit your comments using the online form found here.
Animal Protection Party of Canada