Thank you very much. Good morning to all of you, and good morning, Mr. Chair.
As you said, my name is Jaspinder Komal. I am the chief veterinary officer for Canada and vice-president of science at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I am also Canada's delegate to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the OIE.
I'm happy to have the opportunity to discuss the current situation regarding bovine tuberculosis in British Columbia.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak to the current situation concerning bovine tuberculosis—or bovine TB or bTB—in British Columbia. With me are my colleagues Dr. Debbie Barr and Mr. Donald Boucher from AAFC.
First, Mr. Chair, let me explain a bit about this particular disease. Bovine TB is an infectious disease of livestock caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis. This disease can occasionally affect other species of mammals and, although very rarely these days, can infect humans. Bovine TB is internationally recognized as a serious disease and is listed with the World Organisation for Animal Health, the OIE.
We have been addressing bTB for a long time. It has been the subject of a mandatory national eradication program in Canada since 1923. I can say that Canada has made great strides toward eradication. After nearly a century of effort, financial investment and close collaboration on the part of various federal, provincial and industry stakeholders, the disease is virtually eliminated except for the occurrence of rare cases in domestic animals.
This is a significant achievement not only for animal health in Canada but also for public health. These days, cases of humans contracting bovine TB are very rare in Canada. Exposure can occur only through the passage of fluids from an animal through an open skin sore, extended close contact with an animal with active respiratory TB or drinking unpasteurized milk from an infected cow.
When the CFIA investigates cases of bovine TB on farms, we remind the producers of potential risks to human health and put them in contact with provincial public health providers. The risk to the general population in Canada is considered to be very low because we mandate pasteurization of milk and we have an effective surveillance program that includes inspection of animals in slaughter facilities.
This brings me to the current finding.
Mr. Chair, the CFIA began its investigation on October 26, 2018, when an examination of a mature beef cow presented for slaughter at a federally registered facility revealed signs associated with bovine TB. The animal did not enter the food chain, thereby demonstrating the effectiveness of the surveillance system in mitigating risks to the food supply.
The CFIA laboratory testing confirmed a case of bovine TB on November 9, 2018. The animal was traced to a farm in the southern interior of British Columbia.
The CFIA takes bovine TB very seriously. As part of the response to this incident, the CFIA activated an emergency operations centre, EOC, located in Burnaby. This is a joint EOC with our partners from the Province of B.C., allowing for increased co-operation among the federal and provincial decision-makers.
The CFIA followed its animal health disease control protocols and contacted the producer to share the information. We have engaged with provincial counterparts and industry organizations to advise them of this finding and of possible next steps. Information is also available on the CFIA website.
There are three broad faces to a bovine TB investigation.
First, the CFIA works to determine where the disease currently is and takes steps to contain it. This involves testing of adult cattle on the farm where the infected cattle originated and of herds immediately surrounding this farm.
Second, we look to other herds where the disease may have gone. This activity is known as a trace-out. We look at all movements of cattle from the infected farm over the past five years and determine the location and status of the animals. When located, these cattle are also tested.
Lastly, we work to determine where the disease might have come from. This activity is called a trace-in. We look at all animals that entered the index farm over the past five years, and go back to their source herds and test them too.
Our Canadian livestock traceability program assists us in performing trace-outs and trace-ins. Because the current investigation is in the early stages, the exact number of herds involved and the time to complete the investigation are not yet known. As of now, there's only one confirmed case of bovine TB.
Good traceability helps to find all affected animals quickly and shorten the investigation and response time. In this particular case, livestock identification and proper traceability has allowed the CFIA to efficiently identify the affected herd. In a bovine TB investigation, movement restrictions are placed on any implicated animals so that additional herds are not exposed. As part of this investigation, all animals on the infected premises will be tested for the disease.
The CFIA recognizes the challenges, both emotional and economic, facing the producers who have had cattle and calves quarantined due to the CFIA's investigation. To help producers with the emotional aspects, and recognizing that uncertainty generates a lot of stress, CFIA employees make sure that relevant and complete information is provided as soon as possible. We also provide information on support options available to the producers.
From an economic side, producers are eligible for compensation for any animals ordered destroyed by the CFIA as part of this investigation. In addition, under the Canadian agriculture partnership, there is a suite of business risk management, BRM, programs available and administered by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. That includes the AgriInvest and AgriStability programs to help farmers manage risk due to severe market volatility and disastrous situations that are largely beyond their capacity to manage. Cash advances are also available through the advance payments program. AAFC is working with the Province of B.C., industry and producers to assess the financial impact on farm operations and to respond appropriately to meet the needs of producers.
While Canada is considered to be officially free of bovine TB, isolated cases may occur. This has been the only case of bovine TB found in Canada since six cases from a single herd were found in Alberta in 2016. This finding does not affect Canada's current animal health status. All provinces are considered to be bovine TB-free, as per the criteria established in the health of animals regulations.
The goal of the national bovine TB eradication program is the early detection and complete eradication of the disease from livestock in Canada. Achieving eradication will require ongoing collaboration and vigilance to prevent the re-emergence of bovine TB in domestic livestock populations. This will maintain Canada's reputation as a supplier of safe and high-quality livestock and livestock products.
Canada's strong bovine TB response program was essential in maintaining uninterrupted international market access for Canadian cattle and meat products in 2016. As chief veterinary officer for Canada, I have proactively engaged with CVOs in countries where Canada exports beef and beef products and received neutral to positive reaction. We are hopeful that there will not be negative impact on market access.
The CFIA will continue to work closely with the producers, industry associations and provincial and federal agricultural and health authorities throughout the investigation. The CFIA will continue to update all stakeholders, including at this table, through our website or by being present in person when new information about the bovine TB situation becomes available.
Mr. Chair, thank you again for this opportunity to provide insight into the CFIA's actions in the bovine TB investigation.
Thanks for being here today.
I have a series of question about things that people have presented as concerns. There are potentially some alternatives to herd depopulation. Of the cattle that were destroyed at Jenner, many were just weaned calves. They were put into the landfill because they knew how long they would have to be feeding them. As you mentioned, it takes a certain amount of time for them to be infected. Then if they were to be processed at a certain time, you'd know there would be no concern about those particular animals. Taking a look at what has happened in B.C., it would be an isolated case, extensively managed and extensively closed. If a test and cull approach could be used there as well, would people be interested in that? When you look at the procedures that other countries use, are they using exactly the same approach, to kill everything regardless of age? Could you comment on that, first of all?
Also, in your introduction you spoke about how isolated it is, how few cases we have here in Canada. Then you talked about the very rare instances where humans could get this, and the main way you mentioned was non-pasteurized milk and you explained that we go through a particular process. Of course, because you are a responsible scientist, you will never say there is zero chance of something happening. That's the physical science part, but then there is the political science part. Because you cannot or will not say zero, everybody else gets cranked up about it, saying when that does happen....
The problem we have is the relationship between where you are with the science and where the public is, where people start cranking up the rhetoric. Could you comment on herd depopulation and how best to speak to the public? We all know about the fiasco with BSE. It must have been frustrating for you to watch the cow from the U.K. flopping around and our news media talking about it—the way it was completely blown out of proportion. Could you comment on that, please?
I'll tackle the first one, and look to my colleague if I make any mistakes.
We have worked very hard on this since the 1920s. Among other countries that have similar systems to ours in managing animal health—the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, Australia—I think Australia and Canada are the two countries that don't have TB in domestic herds.
If we find a case of TB, we look at the economics. It's much better for us to eliminate it and clean it and then start again. The disease is so slow that you never know—it might flare up if you keep the animals there for any length of time.
The U.S. moved away from the program we have, and a number of states are infected. Now they cannot eliminate TB from their domestic herd. That's why we want to continue to do what we are doing. At the most we spend about $40 million every five years to do this. That was the cost the last time we did it in Alberta. It might be less this time, because it's a smaller problem. The U.S. will spend that much money almost every year. From the point of view of economics, it's better.
To your second question, about why we care if it is so low: back when TB was quite prevalent in bovine populations, about 6% or 8% of human cases were from bovine TB. Now we see virtually nothing. If we let it go and TB starts appearing in our cattle population, we might start seeing human cases again. Given that we have to give antibiotics for a year, and given the human health impacts and the impacts on the health and social systems, I think it's better to continue.
Okay. I've just always been interested in that. We're always so concerned about this wholesome product. I grew up, and my whole family grew up, drinking unpasteurized milk. Apparently we did not too bad.
Mr. Alistair MacGregor: You're still here.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Bev Shipley: Quite honestly, my daughter went on a mission trip to a third world country, and she had a conversation with the doctor. They always ask what your father does. When she said her father was a dairy farmer, the doctor asked if she drank unpasteurized milk. I though this might not end up just the way I wanted it to, but anyway, she truthfully said, “Absolutely we do.” The doctor then told her she would have more antibodies in her body and more protection on the mission trip than any of the other children would. I got thinking; I'm always concerned about how we cannot drink it now, because there may be this chance, and yet....
I know what you're saying, but we just legalized a drug when we know there are addictions. People will end up in the health care system and all that. I'm still a big believer in unpasteurized milk, even though I guess there is a small chance of something happening.
Tell me about the tags and the traceability. You said there's still work to do, and I guess there will be. I think in the beef industry there's pretty good traceability. I believe in the dairy industry there is a traceability program. Can you expand on where the lack is in terms of traceability, or where we need to improve on it?