February 22, 2002 Victoria Times by Jeff BellThe Archers' quest to save their herd of water buffalo from government-ordered destruction has ended in a compromise agreement with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The CFIA ordered the water buffalo destroyed because of an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- or mad-cow disease -- in Denmark, where the first members of the herd originated. As early as this week, the process of killing the original 18 water buffalo imported by the Archers in January 2000 will begin.
Thirty animals born in Canada will remain in quarantine on the Archer's Cowichan Valley farm, and will be spared if none of the original herd tests positive for BSE.
At present, testing is possible only on dead animals. "Any positive test will result in the destruction of all of the water buffalo that are currently on the farm," the CFIA's Bill Anderson said.
Anthea Archer expressed mixed emotions Monday following a meeting with Anderson and other CFIA officials in Victoria. "We're happy to move on," she said. "We're certainly not happy with the conclusion because it means that all the imported animals are going to be destroyed, and we haven't come across any evidence that would say that there was anything wrong with them."
It will be hard to lose any of the large, gentle animals, she said. "They come and look you right in the eye, and then just put their head on your shoulder, and yet they're still production animals."
She has already been talking to the animals slated for destruction, she said.
"We have to make our peace with the buffalo that have to go."
The buffalo will be destroyed over the course of the next six months. That is because the CFIA decided females about to give birth will be allowed to live until their offspring is at least five months old, Anthea Archer said.
"They have secured the lives of the younger animals by doing that."
The Archers will be paid $4,000 for each animal that is destroyed. It is the maximum allowed under terms of the Health of Animals Act, but only about one-third of what the animals are actually worth, Darrel Archer said.
He said the prospect of 30 animals being spared gives him and his wife hope they won't lose their 53-hectare Fairburn Farm, just south of Duncan.
They had hoped to be using buffalo milk to produce mozzarella cheese by now, he said, but full commercial production remains at least five years away because of the situation that developed.
And losing the farm that has been in his family for 50 years is still a possibility, he said.
"We've got so many damn bills to pay, and these buffalo were supposed to be in production a year ago."
Anderson said he considered a wide range of information in making his decision on what would happen to the water buffalo, including input from the Archers.
Ultimately, the imported animals "continue to present an unacceptable risk to Canada for the introduction of BSE into our country," he said.
While there has never been a recorded case of BSE in water buffalo, Anderson said, "there has been a number of cases of BSE reported in other exotic ruminants that are far more genealogically removed from cattle than are water buffalo.
"In the risk assessment, the conclusion that I drew was that it would be imprudent not to assume that water buffalo could be a susceptible species to this disease."
The animals will be destroyed at a CFIA-approved facility, possibly the Animal Diseases Research Institute in Lethbridge, Alta.
Anthea Archer said she is hopeful that something positive will result from all that has happened over the past two years.
"Unfortunately, we haven't come through with the conclusion we wanted, but I think in time maybe we have made a giant step forward to working with the federal government and Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
"Quite honestly, the bottom line, and we all agree on this, is safe food production."