It won’t go away as an issue.
Foot and mouth disease (FMD) continues to devastate the livelihoods of livestock breeders in Britain. As I write, piles of dead animals await being set on fire to join the dreadful pyres that are filling hills and dales with appalling, choking smoke.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Fact Sheet (at www.cfia-acia.agr.ca/english/anima/heasan/disemala/fmdtrave.shtml) defines the disease inthis manner:
“Foot and Mouth Disease is a highly contagious viral disease of cattle and swine. It also affects sheep, goats, deer and other cloven-hoofed ruminants. Foot and Mouth Disease does not affect humans.
“Canada, with its vast natural resources, has an economy largely based on agriculture (includes plants and animals), forestry, and fisheries. If an outbreak occurred in Canada, the Foot and Mouth Disease virus could spread rapidly to all parts of the country through routine livestock movements. Unless detected early and eradicated immediately, losses could reach billions of dollars in the first year.
“Animals, people or materials can spread Foot and Mouth Disease.”
It’s the last sentence that provokes particular attention.
Whether it’s Shawville’s PPHS school trip, pleasure or business travellers to Britain, or even goods - including luggage - coming to Canada from the Continent, many Equity readers are deeply concerned about how we can possibly keep FMD from affecting Canadian livestock.
Who are concerned? People such as Aurora and Michael Reford, who live on the Mountain Road. That road hugs the base of the Eardley Escarpment north of Aylmer. Aurora telephoned me last week, while I was in California, and left a message requesting I call her back about the disease and deer. I did, and here’s the gist of our discussion.
Because they run a small beef operation of 30 cattle - 15 of which are due to calf this spring - the couple is acutely aware of the plight of their counterparts in Britain. I’ve known the Refords for years - we share a love of Gatineau Park - and just like mine does, their property borders the park.
Which brings me to the subject of deer, cloven-hoofed animals that are carriers of FMD.
“Deer have had a bad time of it this winter; they’re hungry. One of my neighbours has been feeding them, and it got us to thinking how precarious our farm would be, if foot and mouth disease came here,” Aurora Reford said. “Wild deer are carriers and we often see them in our pasture, grazing near the cattle. They don’t mingle, but they’re there all the same.”
If FMD came to Canada, we agreed, carriers such as deer would be nigh impossible to control. In rural areas like Pontiac, therefore, FMD would be disastrous.
While Canadians can boast that we’ve been FMD-free since the Saskatchewan outbreak in 1952, all of us realize that with world trade, we’re living in a global village where diseases can be easily transmitted across political boundaries.
Just look at AIDS, the auto-immune deficiency disease that continues to plague human life throughout the world as well as here at home in Pontiac county.
Aurora added, “No-one would have guessed it would be a disease of animals that would get the public so concerned about their own food supply. My husband and I have a very small operation and customers of ours have been telephoning us, asking if the meat is safe, enquiring where it’s prepared. Our animals are grass fed, grain finished and our meat is very good and healthy. People are scared!
“But people are asking us all about foot and mouth. They are thinking, ‘What would happen if it got to Canada?’”
The challenge is for us all to ensure FMD does not arrive on our shores. On Saturday night after returning from our family reunion in California, Eric and I watched the national news, during which we saw a western Canadian high school class returning from a trip to Europe. Their backpacks were being bagged in plastic garbage bags which were going to be quarantined for two weeks; they themselves had to shower in a special concoction of vinegar; and their clothes had to be dry-cleaned.
Some kids looked really hassled… nonetheless, wash they did.
And when you think about it, quarantining your souvenirs and backpack for two weeks is not a hardship when weighed against the disastrous consequences of having Canadian livestock - whether they be cows, sheep or hogs - infected with FMD. Not to mention wild (or domestic) deer.
FMD is no joking matter. Think before you travel to Britain just now. The Refords did, and Aurora tells me that they cancelled their trip to England this spring. “It’s just not worth the risk,” she noted.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon and who cancelled her plans to return to Wales and Scotland this summer on a research assignment for some articles. It’s just not worth the risk.