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Yukon bolsters animal health laws

The Yukon government has imposed some tougher rules on itself for dealing with animal diseases. The new Animal Health Act, which came into affect on Wednesday, lays out careful guidelines.

The Yukon government has imposed some tougher rules on itself for dealing with animal diseases.

The new Animal Health Act, which came into affect on Wednesday, lays out careful guidelines the government must follow when ordering the destruction or quarantine of animals for health reasons.

“It updates the previous animal health act in a number of ways. There are a bunch of small things in there, but the three key policy changes are a set of new tools that we have for the government and the minister to respond to a potential disease outbreak,” explained Environment Minister Currie Dixon.

“There’s a control order, a surveillance order and a quarantine order that can be created. There is also the ability, which wasn’t in the previous act, for the minister to provide compensation for an individual or animal owner that is negatively affected by some action taken by government. For instance, if the government had to put down an animal, there is a process for compensation,” he said.

There is also an appeals process that animal owners or farmers can use to fight a quarantine or destruction order. Owners can also appeal compensation rulings if they feel they weren’t compensated fairly, Dixon said.

The whole system is set up to be as transparent as possible in what is often a very difficult situation, explained Dr. Mary Vanderkop, the Yukon’s Chief Veterinary Officer.

“It requires that every order record all the details around the justification for it, and the details around the what the risk is, why the action is being taken, and explain to people precisely what it is that we intend to do and why.

“It was based on what we heard from stakeholders, which is that we provide for a respectful approach to dealing with issues that are often very sensitive. It’s extremely emotional. It’s often very devastating to the people who are impacted,” Vanderkop said.

While the act is certainly robust when it comes to the minister’s powers to order animal destruction, Vanderkop said it’s the quarantine rules that are actually the best defence against the spread of animal disease.

“There are circumstances where drastic and severe action is required There are circumstances where animals will need to be destroyed. Those are few and far between. In most instances, the spread of disease can be controlled by controlling the movement of animals. The quarantine order is actually the most powerful measure that we have in place to prevent disease spread in all but the most severe instances,” she said.

The act applies not only to livestock, but to all animals in the territory, even wildlife and hunted game, Vanderkop said.

“Say, for example, if we knew there was massive contamination of a waterway or a pond. What we could do is order that any animals found dead near that post would need to be submitted to lab for analysis,” she said.

The most serious animal diseases, especially those most likely to require immediate destruction of livestock, are monitored and governed by federal laws, Vanderkop explained. The new Yukon rules focus on diseases with a special risk to Yukon or ones that aren’t covered by federal rules.

The last time animals were ordered destroyed by the government was in 2005 under the old act. A privately owned reindeer herd was discovered to have Johne’s disease, an incurable wasting illness that inflames the lower intestines and cripples digestion, essentially starving the afflicted animal to death.

On the advice of several government biologists and with undocumented cabinet authorization, Environment officials slaughtered the entire herd, shooting 52 of the adult reindeer and bludgeoning four newborns to death. The herd’s owners sued the government for damages but the case was tossed out after it sat dormant for five years, and the owners were never compensated.

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