Killing of water buffaloes senseless

March 8, 2002 The Guardian (Charlottetown) by Barbara Yaffe
Government bureaucracies work hard to maintain their reputation as intractable, know-it-all bullies who refuse to heed reason.

And this is why the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency will be sending a truck Tuesday to haul away Flora, Pat and Sophie. The three buffalo are to be transported to Lethbridge and killed -- so their brains can be tested for mad cow disease. This bureaucratic action is more about mad government than about mad cow disease. I first wrote about Fairburn Farms in the Cowichan Valley on Feb. 21. Owners Darrel and Anthea Archer in 2000 imported water buffalo from Denmark -- with a federal permit. These purebred water buffalo, unique in Canada, were to be the start of a new industry for this country that would produce and market organic low-fat dairy products.

The subsequent occurrence of mad cow disease in Denmark, however, led the agriculture department's food inspection agency -- CFIA -- to conjure up the extreme assumption that the Archers' 18 buffalo might have the disease. This, even though the animals were never in contact with any herd tainted by mad cow disease in Denmark.

The agency had the first buffalo, Bond, slaughtered Feb. 28. Test results on his brain are expected in a few weeks. Next Tuesday the department will kill three pregnant females, Flora, Sophie and Pat.This summer they'll slaughter the remaining 14. This is ludicrous, for several reasons:

-- Not a single case of mad cow disease has ever been recorded in a water buffalo anywhere in the world.

-- Buffalo don't eat the animal byproducts suspected of causing mad cow; they eat grasses.

-- Buffalo from the same herd sold to an Australian farmer have been okayed by the Australian government.

-- The Archers promised Ottawa they'd keep their water buffalo -- which show zero signs of any illness -- quarantined indefinitely. Their farm is at least a mile from any neighbour.

But inspection agency officials have stuck to their alarmist line -- these animals must be put down, they could be carrying mad cow disease. And pigs may fly.

Officials bullied the Archers to the point where the couple signed an agreement earlier this year to have their adult buffalo slaughtered, in exchange for letting their 28 calves live (assuming brain tests on the adults are clean.)

Mrs. Archer says she signed under duress and doesn't feel the process by which the decision was made to destroy their herd was fair or based on scientific reality.

An "independent" risk assessment officer assigned to study the case by the CFIA just happened to be a food inspection agency employee. A dispute resolution official who intervened during negotiations also happened to be a CFIA employee.

Clearly, Ottawa just wants to show our trading partners how tough it is on mad cow disease; and if that means sacrificing the buffalo and the Archers' farm on the flimsiest of suspicions, so be it. What's a buffalo's life worth anyway?

This heavy-handed intervention has all but ruined the past two years of the Archers' lives. They've spent $66,000 trying to save their animals.

Mrs. Archer is desolate for another reason; the animals are responsive and the couple has developed a real relationship with them.

The Archers, who have received strong support from the community and the Island Farmers Alliance, now have only one hope. If theycan find another country to accept the herd -- not easy with Canada leaving the impression these animals may have mad cow disease -- the feds will agree to let them be shipped out of Canada.

Mrs. Archer is trying to get Cuba or Costa Rica to accept the herd. If she does, she and her husband will accompany them. She says they'll sell the farm to pay their legal bills.

Mrs. Archer notes CFIA has an endless pot of taxpayers' money, and has used plenty of it in their two-year long pursuit.

She's scrambling to arrange for the buffaloes' export but it's unrealistic to expect anything to happen by Tuesday. The very least Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief could do is delay the slaughters to give the Archers time to arrange the export.

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