In May of 2012 the Centre for Plant Health, a facility operated near Sidney by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was destined for closure due to budget cuts included within the Harper Government budget.
Now, just over a year later, the Centre is still operational and its future is solid, thanks to a review conducted in the wake of protests and a petition presented to the Federal Government.
“I’m pretty confident that that analysis will be the justification for keeping (the Centre) open for the foreseeable future. I’m talking the next 20, 30, or 40 years,” said Keith Campbell, the Executive Director for the Western Laboratory Network of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Campbell said that the proposed closure was part of a secret budget process in which cuts are proposed without an in-depth review of their impact.
Once that review was conducted, it was apparent that placing a plant virus quarantine facility in the heart of the Okanagan “was difficult to manage” said Campbell, and that the ramifications might not have been fully thought out.
The research station’s operations were slated to go to the Pacific Agri-food Research Centre in Summerland, where they would have been merged with that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) facility.
The move was reportedly lauded at the time by Hans Buchler, the chair of the BC Wine Grape Council, representing some of the growers whose imports of grapevines and fruit trees might have been streamlined by the closure of the Vancouver Island facility.
Guy Gravelle, a Food Inspection Agency spokesperson was also reported as stating that the move would provide “enhanced capacity” to the work of the Summerland Center.
Elizabeth May, Green Party MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands did not agree and was instrumental in launching the petition campaign to save the Centre.
“The closure was a completely ridiculous concept from the outset,” said May.
May is also credited with drawing the attention of Gerry Ritz, the Minister for Agriculture, to the issue.
“I have to give Gerry Ritz full marks for listening to our concerns and conducting a fair and rationale review of the proposed closing. It never made sense, after all,” said May.
The Centre is now enjoying its hundredth year of operation and the roughly thirty-five professionals who continue to work there have gained international acclaim for their work.
They are currently engaged in the next generation of research on plant viruses, employing DNA sequencing and analysis to streamline the process.
“Quarantines and controls are far more complex for plants than they are for animals,” said Campbell.
“The process can take up to three years as the viruses may be unknown and may only manifest themselves for one or two weeks during the entire growing season.”
“The Centre staff has a well deserved international reputation for excellence. They are world-renowned,” said Campbell.
“I’m happy to say that their future is solid.”