Producer part in prevention: Helping mitigate FMD in Canada

Emma Cross

By now, you’ve likely heard of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), a disease known for being extremely contagious and extremely severe. In the news right now, FMD strikes panic in the Canadian beef industry. That’s why it’s key that each and every one of us does our part to prevent the introduction of FMD into our Canadian cattle herd.

Fast Facts About FMD

  • Occurs in livestock and wildlife with cloven hooves – cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, bison, elk, deer, wild boars, etc.
  • Many animals recover, but are left in a weak state
  • Found in 77% of the global livestock population – Africa, Middle East, Asia, and some parts of South America
  • Spread by contact with bodily fluids from affected animals, contaminated animal products, food, feed, equipment, clothing, footwear, or hands
  • Can be spread long distances by the airborne virus
  • Humans can carry the virus for up to 36 hours in the throat
  • There is no treatment

Source: Foot and mouth disease |

Signs of FMD in Cattle

  • Sores and then blisters/ulcers on feet, nose, mouth, udder, scrotum
  • Excessive saliva and drooling
  • Lack of desire to move
  • Fever
  • Low appetite
  • Reduced milk yield
  • Loss of body condition
  • Occasional abortions

Source: Foot and mouth disease |

What to Do If You Suspect a Case of FMD

FMD is a reportable disease and must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Whether a case is suspected or confirmed, report it to the chief veterinary office in your province within 24 hours.

Source: Foot and mouth disease |

Tips for Travellers

  • Declare all meat and other animal products brought into Canada (includes semen, embryos, and hides)
  • If coming from a country with FMD, avoid farms, parks, zoos, feed mills, equipment, and livestock for 14 days
  • If you must come into contact with an above area:
    • Clean and disinfect footwear, or ideally, dispose of footwear worn abroad
    • Dry clean clothing worn abroad
    • Thoroughly shower and clean under fingernails
    • Disinfect all personal belongings
    • Follow all biosecurity procedures at the facility
  • If you live on a farm, avoid going home for 36 hours by staying at an alternative residence where someone can bring you clean clothing and footwear to wear home

Source: Foot and mouth disease |

What Happens If FMD Reaches Canada

If FMD was identified in Canada, the CFIA would identify exposed premises, cull exposed and high-risk potentially exposed livestock, and decontaminate the environment. Disposal would occur by incineration or burial.

The Canadian beef industry is continually advocating for the development of an FMD vaccine bank. However, routine FMD vaccination is not allowed in Canada for several reasons. Primarily, routine blood tests cannot distinguish vaccinated animals from infected ones, making vaccinated livestock ineligible for export with Canada’s trading partners. If Canada did widely vaccinate, we would lose “FMD-free without vaccination” status. Many of Canada’s trading partners, including the US, restrict imports from countries that vaccinate for FMD, even for animals that are proven to not carry the virus.

However, if prevention and disease control fail, Canada may vaccinate for FMD to reduce widespread culling. To regain “FMD-free without vaccination” status, Canada would have to wait 3 months after the last case, or in the case of vaccination, 3 months after the slaughter of the last vaccinated animal.

If widespread culling occurs, producers will be compensated for the market value of their lost animals.

Source: Questions and Answers – Response to Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) – Canadian Food Inspection Agency (

Tips for Preventing FMD Introduction to Your Farm

  • Prevent visitors from accessing your livestock
  • Prevent livestock contact with wildlife
  • Regularly disinfect footwear, clothing, and equipment
  • Keep records of people, livestock, feed, supplies, and equipment moving on and off your farm
  • Keep new animals separate for an initial quarantine period (at least 5 days)

Source: Questions and Answers – Response to Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) – Canadian Food Inspection Agency (

More Information

To learn more about FMD and biosecurity preparedness, check out the following resources.

VBP+ Producer Reference Manual – Vulnerable, Distressed & High-Risk Cattle, Biosecurity and Emergency Response Plan modules in particular

VBP+ Training 2.0 on the Canadian Cattle Learning Center

Information Updates: Why we ask for them and what we do with them.


Producers who are certified with VBP+ (audited) are asked to provide information updates every year. There are some excellent reasons for asking for this information. Some of these reasons relate to how we report aggregated data to our stakeholders, who have a vested interest in the value of VBP+, or some items have a direct reporting function for qualification in supply chain programs, such as the Cargill Certified Sustainable Sourcing program.

First, let us discuss what items for which we request information updates. We regularly ask producers to review and update their contact information. If producers change their name, address, postal code, email, primary phone number, etc., we ask that you update that information. These updates allow us to have the most current information if, for whatever reason, we need to contact you. Remember, we would never share this information with anyone without your permission.

We also ask producers to update their head numbers every year. These numbers are a metric that we provide aggregated (not individual) data to stakeholders. For example, twice per year, we provide the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef with the number of cattle under the management of VBP+ certified operations. This is an impressive number! As of February, there are 1,547,000 head under management. It is important that we have confidence in these numbers when we report, which is why we ask producers to update their numbers every year as we know circumstances change.

We are adding some new information fields, which are of interest to not only stakeholders, but we feel would be of future value to producers participating in VBP+. These information fields pertain to acres under the management of VBP+ certified producers, particularly grazing acres and acres for feed production.

There needs to some clarification about how these fields are defined for the purposes of our reporting. We know that not all information requests fit nicely into simple fields, so what is represented here is how we have determined the definitions so we can clearly articulate what we are reporting.

Let us start with grazing or pasture acres. We have split grazing or pasture acres into native grazing acres and tame grazing acres. These are pasture acres that are grazed, not utilized for forage production, although it is understood that acres, especially tame acres, may be utilized for forage production then grazed. We do not want acres that are used for these dual purposes to be double reported; what we need is the primary use of these acres. These can change from year to year based on conditions, which is why we have added these fields to the annual information update.

Native or naturalized acres can be defined as pasture acres that are unimproved or have been returned to a natural state (naturalized). Unimproved acres are defined as pastures that have not been tilled or direct-seeded. This is a tricky area. It brings up questions on individual scenarios and has been difficult to define previously.  If we leave our definition as acres that have been unimproved or returned to a natural state with natural grass species for 30 years, we can begin to collect this data and potentially contribute to a more concise definition for our whole industry.

Tame or improved acres are defined as acres used for pasture that have been tilled (including direct) and re-seeded utilizing plant or grass species not native to the area. This is an important distinction because it provides information on acres that have been returned to pasture, how often land is returned to a grass rotation and production estimates for improved pasture. Land utilization is an important discussion, and it is, as an industry, in our best interest to collect and report this information as accurately as possible. It is of great value to producers to participate in the VBP+ certification program to show commitment to responsible land management, confirmed by VBP+ certification.

Acres for feed production have been defined as irrigated and dryland acres and include acres utilized for forage (hay) production. Irrigated acres include acres utilized by the operation for grain production, silage production, hay production, etc. Even if the product of these acres is sold as a commodity, it is important to include as they are under the management of a VBP+ operation. Irrigation can be defined by the presence of a water diversion license for irrigation.

Any other acres under the management of the VBP+ operation can be defined under the dryland acres for feed production field. So, acres used for the production of grain, hay, silage, swath grazing, including both annual and perennial crops that are not produced using irrigation. All acres reported can be owned acres, rented acres or leased acres; as long as they are under the management processes and practices verified during certification.

Example of a common information submission from a cow/calf operation
Example of a common information submission from a cow/calf operation

This might seem like a lot of information to gather and report, but there could be substantial potential value to producers who participate in VBP+ certification, so we are proactive in collecting and reporting this data. We are looking forward to the results of the reporting of this aggregated data. What a great story to tell that (estimated) 10,000,000 acres of land are under the management of VBP+ certified producers.

VBP+ represents beef producers across the country at many different levels. Our goal is to ensure that the VBP+ program remains valuable and attainable at a producer level. VBP+ certified producers have a great story to tell, and when we present aggregated information that is accurate to third-party organizations, policy developers, and stakeholders, it is a powerful message.