Report: Animal Health committee’s recommendations
April 17, 2015
Part 1 of 2.
The Secretary of Agriculture's Advisory Committee on Animal Health (SACAH) has finalized recommendations for this current session of the Committee's debates. The SACAH is an official advisory body consisting of twenty members who are appointed to discuss and recommend to the Secretary policy affecting livestock agriculture. Members represent all segments of the livestock industry and most are veterinarians. Only three of us are actual livestock producers. The SACAH studies and deliberates issues on a variety of animal health topics and then makes recommendations to the Secretary. This year's recommendations cover a number of important issues.
Framework Agreement for Foreign Animal Disease Zoning: The issue that most interested me is the framework agreement that USDA has negotiated with Canada about our mutual responses should either the US or Canada have an outbreak of a highly contagious foreign animal disease (HCFAD). Because our livestock industry and markets are very much integrated it is important that the Veterinary Services of APHIS have a pre-negotiated agreement with their Canadian counterparts. I am not one of those who takes pleasure in the notion of a "North American" livestock industry but the fact of the matter is that a disease outbreak in the one country will have repercussions in the other.
I differed with most of the Committee over the section describing how a "zone" to contain the disease outbreak would be declared and administered. A "zone" is a disease containment area such as the one that has been declared around Yellowstone Park to curtail the spread of Brucellosis yet allow livestock from the rest of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to be marketed as Brucellosis free. The difference is that Brucellosis is a slow moving disease, this agreement with Canada covers highly infectious diseases. My concern is that the wording of that particular section of the agreement is confusing and may be interpreted to sanction a short circuit in the recommendations given by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) which are the international standards for dealing with disease epidemics.
My worry is that the inadequate wording in the Agreement will be used to allow livestock movements before the disease outbreak is securely contained. We have seen from experience that governments are more responsive to the demands of multinational industry than to the advice of regulatory authorities, or the concerns of grassroots producers. When we are faced with an HCFAD outbreak, and I use when instead of if, we don't want the response to be bungled. Clear language is important, especially in a trade related agreement with a foreign country that probably will be used as a precedent for similar agreements with other countries.
It was somewhat ironic that our final deliberations and vote on this issue happened the day before the news that an additional Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) infected cow was found in Canada. The BSE mess is an example of exactly what might happen when an even more serious disease outbreak occurs. For trade reasons, US authorities ignored science and the interests of grassroots producers to allow imports of live cattle from Canada before Canada had contained and eliminated BSE. Because the Asian countries that purchase US meat could not distinguish if the meat they were buying came from the US or Canadian cattle, they banned US imports at great economic loss to every US cattle producer. In essence we adopted Canada's BSE disease status for no particularly good reason even though we had no control over how the Canadian authorities controlled BSE. With this latest BSE cow we see that Canada has still not eradicated BSE.
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That is in a nutshell my reasoning as to why USDA should not enter into an agreement with Canada that short-circuits the OIE standards. However, the majority of the SACAH committee did not agree with me. If this agreement with Canada is to be corrected it will be up to livestock producers to directly raise their concerns with the Secretary of Agriculture. You can read the Framework Agreement by typing in the following on your internet browser: DRAFT APHIS-CFIA FAD Zoning Framework—March 19, 2014
I find it gratifying how because of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) this latest BSE cow in Canada has not affected the U.S. demand for beef. It would be the same multinational industry forces who have attacked COOL that would exploit the poorly worded Framework Agreement with Canada to short-circuit strict zoning requirements. Everyone would be put at risk for the benefit of the few. F
See part two in next week's paper.