Thursday, September 30, 2021

Goddard highlights agriculture’s role in health

Agriculture policy makers should be taking health into account when they are formulating policies, just as they are now forced to account for environmental impacts, said Dr. Ellen Goddard, one of four Distinguished Fellows recently appointed by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) to delve into sustainability.

Goddard, who researched and taught at the University of Guelph until she moved to Alberta in the 1990s, said she will be pushing her three peers to consider One Health.

She provided an example of how health was not considered when federal policy makers decided to allow farming of deer and elk.

The result has been outbreaks of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) which some fear could hop over to human to cause Kreutzfeld-Jakob disease (KJD).

Chronic Wasting Disease involves malformation of prions in the brain and is thus similar to Bovine Spongiform 
Encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow’s disease) and KJD.

Not only has CWD entered Canadian agriculture, but also it threatens to spread to cattle and other species.

Goddard noted that Denmark found the CWD prions in forages, so banned the import of forages from countries experiencing CWD.

By comparison, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is narrowly focused on CWD in farmed elk and deer and does not monitor for its spread to wildlife and the broader risks that infected wildlife pose to animal and human health. 

Further, wildlife freely pass across the border with the United States where there is known to be CWD in wild deer and elk.

Goddard said this is but one small, but specific, example of how health ought to be a consideration in agriculture policy.

She said the landmark study, Canadian Agriculture in the Seventies, made no mention of the environment, yet that became an important component of agriculture policy in the 1990s. Health still gets no mention.

“We don’t mention the world health at all,” she said.

She said farmers are doing all they can to implement sustainable production practices, but what’s needed is a broader and integrated approach.

She has a major concern about antibiotic resistant bacteria multiplying from farms.

“It’s not a gradual thing. One day it (an antibiotic) works, the next it doesn’t.”

She said Europe is far ahead of Canada on this issue.

Here the main responses have been to remove growth promotion from the labels for antibiotics (although that seems to have made little difference in farming practices) and requiring a veterinary prescription for almost all antibiotics.

“We need some serious research into alternatives,” she said. 

It’s most likely government-funded research that will be needed, not patent-protected pharmaceutical-industry programs that dominate the North American response to the challenge of livestock and poultry bacterial diseases and infections, she indicated indirectly in an extended telephone interview.

She believes anti-microbial resistance “is bigger than climate change” in terms of sustainability of Canadian agriculture.

She also noted that in the Netherlands, health officials consider farmers to be such a high risk of carrying anti-microbial-resistant organisms that they are isolated for testing before being admitted to hospitals.

Goddard participated in the formation of the Canadian Roundtable on Beef and said one of the lessons she learned is how insular agriculture societies can be.

For example, Australia decided it liked what the Canadians did on beef, but wouldn’t call it a roundtable, but a square table.

“We should all learn from each other,” Goddard said.

And so, for example, a challenge in health ought to be a consideration for farm policy.