Any review of Canada’s most recent disease outbreaks highlights that emergencies will and do happen. Emergency preparedness is now a high priority according to Deborah Lorenzin, senior advisor, strategic initiatives division, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).
“Our systems have worked well in the past, but with global trade we need to modernize and enhance plant pest and animal disease prevention to mitigate risks,” says Lorenzin. “The goal is to build sector resilience. The desired outcome is to have an agricultural sector that proactively addresses risk, adapts to changing conditions and is able to withstand and recover from emergencies.”
Her presentation to the Canadian Horticultural Council’s Greenhouse Committee resonates with the sector. In 2011, Spain’sgreenhouse sector was devastated while it took weeks for German health officials to finger the culprit of 4,125 foodborne illnesses, 908 with hemolytic-uremic syndrome and more than 50 deaths. The source of the E. coli 0104 outbreak in northern Germany was finally tracked to Egyptian-grown organic fenugreek sprouts, but not before consumers rejected raw cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. Early in the crisis, German officials had incorrectly blamed the origin and strain of E. coli to cucumbers imported from Spain. The agricultural income from Spain’s Murcia region was cut by more than 11 per cent for the growing season, according to Food Safety News.
Five years hence, it’s more critical than ever for Canada’s greenhouse vegetable industry to have an emergency plan. Besides a value north of $1 billion in farmgate receipts, it’s the years of building a reputation for wholesome, healthy produce that’s at stake. The industry is participating in AAFC’s emergency preparedness.
Stakeholder consultations are now underway so that a revised framework can be presented to the federal-provincial-territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting on July 20-22, 2016 in Calgary.
Emergency preparedness goes beyond the greenhouse sector to the entire produce industry. For those who wish to offer feedback, please email: AgEM-GUAg@agr.gc.ca.