Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.
I have had the opportunity to go through some of the other presentations, so I know there has been considerable detail provided on preparedness and prevention on ASF. I would like to change the level to discuss both macro and personal outcomes as they relate to the impact of ASF on Canada's pork sector.
I applaud the focus of careful planning for prevention and preparedness. I also recognize the motivating force of a guillotine effect in an instant trade embargo. However, notwithstanding all the careful planning and scientific rigour brought to bear on this vexing problem, most scientists and epidemiologists we've talked to tell me that ASF will certainly arrive on our shores.
I would like to tell a personal story. At Maple Leaf, we operate 205 hog sites that employ 714 people. We also operate two pork plants at Lethbridge and Brandon that employ another 2,500 people and process nearly four million hogs per year. We recognize the threat ASF poses to our employees' security and well-being. Many of our employees are new Canadians who have come here to make a better life.
Consider William and Selene, who both work in our Brandon facility. William has worked on our cut floor for 12 years. He started out as an hourly employee in the packaging area when he emigrated from El Salvador. Today, William is a supervisor on the loin line, our biggest production department in Brandon with nearly 200 employees. His wife Selene emigrated from El Salvador two years earlier. She also started on the production floor in the ham-boning department and now works as a food safety technician in our QA department. They have two boys. They own a home, and they are extremely proud of the life they have built for themselves in Brandon. Their hope is that their boys will continue their education and thrive as they have been able to do.
If ASF arrives in Canada tomorrow, thousands of families like William and Selene's would lose their livelihoods, and many of them overnight. Imagine that, overnight, thousands of families on the street.
While it's extremely difficult to quantify the full potential impacts of an ASF outbreak, economists routinely say the impact would be over $45 billion to the U.S. and Canadian economies and potential direct and indirect job losses for over 125,000 people.
This isn't about some sick animals, and it isn't about human illness. ln the 21st century, this is about economic Armageddon over sudden trade embargoes. That any person in this room would allow such human devastation over the outbreak of an inevitable animal disease is simply wrong, and we believe it's morally wrong. We have the tools, skills and intellect to do better.
At Maple Leaf, we are trying to do our part in prevention. We are stepping up our biosecurity, educating our employees and advocating for policies to protect our borders. We have also embarked on a compartmentalization project for our western hog supply to keep our business running and our ability to export intact. However, who knows if that will be acceptable. We are piloting a geofence for hog barns that tracks movements of trucks and the livestock they carry to help us analyze movement and isolate animal disease issues, like ASF, if they occur.
Despite all our efforts, we find ourselves like the proverbial Dutch boy with his finger in a dike trying to hold back a threat we can't see until it has done its damage.
We certainly have great respect for the OIE and what it has done historically, but 100 years later ASF is shattering old paradigms, and that means we must adopt a new one. Our goal of “prevent and prepare” is simply inadequate. Our new goal should be, take away the risk of financial ruin for these tens of thousands of families, and keep trade flowing.
We need to think differently, creatively and ambitiously. As an executive, two of the most powerful words in my vocabulary are “why” and “how”. Therefore, I challenge the government and industry to consider the following: Why does ASF in wild boar stop all trade? Why does ASF stop trade but PEDv does not? How can we ensure that decision-makers like you fully understand what is at stake here? Why don’t we have a progressive architecture that solves for risk and allows trade to continue? Why don’t we have a vaccine? Why don’t we have a kill step in the meat?
There simply is no overreacting to ASF. If trends continue, the virus could become truly pandemic and endemic. Therefore, we need to think differently and boldly. We need to make everything possible and not be bound by what seems doable.
I would urge Canadian leaders to never allow a pig virus to steal the livelihood of any of the hundreds of thousands who could also be impacted. I would urge government and industry to find 21st-century solutions to a new challenge and not be blinded by mere prevention and preparedness.
I would urge Canadian and global leaders to act right now. This could occur tomorrow. This has real human impact. These people who work so hard are counting on us.
I leave you with four considerations. First, we need to consider how we change the rules with OIE to allow trade to continue under certain scenarios. The human devastation isn't worth the benefit of not doing so.
Second, we need aggressive deployment of zoning and biosecure compartmentalization as an immediate outcome.
Third, we need to find testing protocols that can ensure the meat we ship is safe, even if the disease is close by. This is also the art of the possible.
Finally, there must be technologies that can provide a kill step as a last resort. For example, can ultra-high pressure pasteurization be made to work acceptably or irradiation or any other means that we haven't yet thought of?
Thank you for your time and attention.