Disease Reporting — Are We Cutting Our Own Throats?

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As it turns out there is no consistent provincial, state, national or international policy on reporting the incidence of influenza in livestock of any kind.

The recent outbreak of so-called swine flu – further referred to as H1N1 flu – causes one to wonder why we may be digging our own grave. Why is it that Alberta is the only confirmed case of a herd of hogs having the flu transferred from humans to hogs? Thousands of cases have occurred across the world, yet there is no confirmed word of a herd infection source from hogs in Mexico where it all started.

The U. S. is next door, one might expect that hogs close to the border might have influenza. It would be safe to assume that workers on American hog operations, which might include some from Mexico, would carry the virus and infect herds in the U. S. But not a peep from the U. S. or Mexico about any viral infestations. Apparently hog operations in those countries are immune to swine flu. As one might suspect, there is more to the story.

As it turns out there is no consistent provincial, state, national or international policy on reporting the incidence of influenza in livestock of any kind. Countries and local authorities seem to make up their own minds as to what to do and what to report about H1N1. Dr Hauer, the Alberta provincial veterinarian, states that reality is of concern, but there isn’t much that can be done.

Well, perhaps we could join the rest of the world and stop setting ourselves up as an easy trade target by being all too cooperative in announcing our alleged animal health problems. If H1N1 isn’t a reportable health disease by international authorities, why are we volunteering the information on outbreaks? There is universal agreement that eating pork from animals that were infected with flu is perfectly safe. I would suggest there is every possibility that humans have all eaten pork from hogs that were infected with flu for the past 1,000 years.

Livestock and poultry producers confront animal health problems on a daily basis – that’s just part of animal agriculture production. They are resolved and production and marketing goes on. So why cannot our veterinary authorities in Alberta accept that reality and stop trying to make a mountain out of a molehill with the H1N1 outbreak? But what a web they weave for us to get caught by their own do-gooder notions.

What better example than the hog producer that has been identified as the source of the Alberta virus transference incident going public with his situation. He clearly points out the failure in the system. He reported the outbreak as required, Alberta Agriculture crowed about how transparent it was being, but then all the authorities ran away as fast they could. The producer was left out in the cold. It seems those same authorities were caught in their own web of bafflegab.

The producer pointed out that as he was under quarantine, he was unable to market his hogs. Veterinary authorities seemed to indicate that the hogs were safe after they recovered from the disease. But that was fooling no one as the producer and his hogs were clearly stigmatized.

The Alberta minister of agriculture seemed to state that any possible official culling and compensation for the producer would be admitting that the virus was transferable through pork consumption. The plan was that the producer would be compensated for animal welfare reasons, being his barns were becoming overcrowded. Yeah, we all believe you, Mr Minister. We trust that the producer in question will eventually be fairly compensated for his honesty. It’s a sad situation that he had to go on CBC TV to get some attention to his plight.

The H1N1 virus situation in hogs brings to light the incompetence that we saw with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) response to the BSE outbreak. But the CFIA had learned something from that travesty – it bailed out early on the political ramifications of a dubious provincial hog influenza policy and left the Alberta government to hold the bag. It causes us to ponder wherther our officials ever learn.

In the end, our Boy Scout behavior on H1N1 in hogs has resulted in trade sanctions against Alberta hogs and pork. Our veterinary authorities seem to believe that honesty is a good policy. That’s admirable if our hog and pork competitors could be just as honest. Meanwhile, at press time, no hogs any where else in the world seem to have contacted swine flu of any kind. Is there a message there?

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