Saturday, May 9, 2015

E-mails show how PED crisis was handled

Hundreds of e-mails among staff at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reveal that people in Ontario did a good job of handling the crisis surrounding discovery of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus on a 500-sow farm between Dorchester and Tillsonburg in January, 2014.

There was immediate exchange of critical information among the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, its Animal Health Laboratory at Guelph, the Ontario Pork marketing board and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

And they worked together to issue news releases that all emphasized that the industry needed to implement tight biosecurity measures.

But things were not going nearly as well later in the outbreak, especially when feed from Grand Valley Fortifiers Ltd. at Cambridge was implicated.

In contrast with e-mails during the beginning of the crisis, these e-mail exchanges have been heavily censored before they were given out in response to an Access-to-Information request.

But it’s clear that one top CFIA official did not believe feed was responsible.

Dr. Harpreet S. Kochhar, Canada’s chief veterinary medical officer and executive director of the Animal Health Directorate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, wrote that porcine materials used in feeds are treated at high temperatures, then passed through a filter, and so a relatively fragile virus such as “PED is not likely to survive the process.”

Nonetheless, he did ask his staff whether there was a feed connection among PED outbreaks.

That came the day that Grand Valley Fortifiers issued a news release saying it was recalling all of its nursery feeds that contained porcine byproducts. It acted immediately on learning that Kansas State University researchers thought PED might spread via these byproducts in feed.

Other revelations in the e-mail exchanges include:

-       A report from the Canadian Border Services Agency that no livestock trucks and trailers were denied entry when returning from the United States via Fort Erie and Queenston in the six months before the first Ontario outbreak.

-       There is no federal regulation requiring returning trucks to be disinfected. They were waived through if they were returning directly from federally-inspected meat-packing plants in the U.S. Only if they had hauled U.S. pigs while in the U.S. were they required by federal regulations to be scraped clean of manure. Inspector were advised that using shovels and brooms was adequate. There was no checking for manure on drivers’ clothes or boots.

-       CFIA officials pondered several alternatives for prompt delivery of samples to the federal laboratory in Winnipeg. They eventually opted to have them personally delivered on a Westjt flight that cost $1,000.

-       The Animal Health Laboratory at Guelph was far more cautious. It advised against personal deliveries because of risks that PED could be carried on clothing and boots. It called for swabs only, not any dead pigs or feces, and the swabs were to be delivered by courier.

-       As early as Aug. 1, 2013, the CFIA warned the Border Services Agency to be vigilant about PED carried by returning trucks and trailers. In the e-mail exchanges, one CFIA official noted that the regulations and standards have always been there, not only in reaction to PED outbreaks in the U.S.

-       In February, 2013, long before PED was an issue, the Canadian Swine Health Board wrote to Agriculture Ministr Gerry Ritz asking for a detailed emergency response protocol backed with a revolving fund of at least $3 million to deal with any outbreak of a highly-contagious and deadly disease. Its recommendations were not implemented until the PED outbreak threatened to get out of hand, and then only partially.

-       There were two positive results for PED at an Olymel packing plant in Quebec the day after the first case in Ontario; follow-up tests were all negative.