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Alberta earmarks $15M for livestock disease and food safety surveillance, lab facilities


Edmonton, AB September 2, 2003 Plans for a new livestock testing facility, along with enhanced surveillance programs and improvements to existing lab facilities, have been unveiled by the Alberta government.

“We know that both Albertans and our international trading partners must be confident in our testing and surveillance systems,” says Shirley McClellan, minister of agriculture, food and rural development (AAFRD). “Let me be clear these changes are about more than simply BSE they’re about ensuring that Alberta has cutting-edge expertise and facilities to deal with emerging animal disease and food safety challenges.”

The enhancements to surveillance, which include cross-training staff to deal with surges, hiring two more veterinary pathologists and increased efficiencies in lab procedures, will provide the AAFRD with the capacity to deal with surges in sample numbers for testing, ensuring appropriate turnaround time for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy tests. As well, improvements to the already-existing lab facilities are intended make it easier for the province to adhere to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s enhanced surveillance requirements.

There are three components to the renovations being made, which are:

– The agriculture, food and rural development department (AAFRD) will renovate its existing animal post-mortem room to increase biological containment to level 2. This area is for initial processing of whole dead animals or portions of animals, such as the processing of bovine heads to remove the brain for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) testing. Construction will also include a new histology lab to increase the department’s capabilities in these testing methods.

– In addition, AAFRD is already renovating existing laboratory space to allow for enhanced surveillance of cattle for BSE as well as elk and deer for Chronic Wasting Disease using rapid screening methods. It says that additional precautions beyond what is required for containment level 2 will further increase worker safety through training and changes in laboratory procedure.

– Finally, the government will construct a new containment level 3 laboratory to allow increased safety in handling of level 3 agents such as BSE. The lab will be located in Edmonton at the OS Longman Building site. Plans for the facility are currently being drawn up, with construction expected to begin in spring 2004 and opening of the new lab in spring 2005. Staffing will be a combination of existing personnel and new hires, according to David Hennig, a department spokesperson.

The enhancements to the already-existing facilities and the new lab will cost approximately $10 million. The enhancements to surveillance are expected to cost $5 million.