Open house reveals secrets of diagnostic lab Provincial facility the only Containment Level 3 lab west of Winnipeg


ABBOTSFORD – For most people, the plant and animal health lab at the BC Ministry of Agriculture’s Abbotsford Agriculture Centre is a big black box. What goes in, be it plant or animal matter, almost never comes out again. The only time a sample leaves is when it is sent to another lab of equal or greater certification.

The lab is the only one west of

Winnipeg certified to Containment Level 3, the second-highest of the four biosecurity levels. Human access is highly restricted; even agriculture centre staff not directly employed in the lab are prohibited from entering its hallowed halls. “We are audited by four different

organizations,” said BCMA chief veterinary officer Jane Pritchard, the lab’s executive director. “We have voluntarily put ourselves under incredible scrutiny.” Although the centre has always had a diagnostic lab, it was upgraded to Containment Level 3 following the 2004 avian influenza outbreak. When the upgraded facility officially opened in 2008, then-director Ron Lewis called the upgrade “extremely visionary,” noting its $14 million cost “represents only a one-to- two day cost of an AI outbreak.” Pritchard briefly pried open the black box for

interested observers during an open house and information session in early December. Unfortunately, the open house was poorly

Attendance was sparse at an open house and new farmer information session at the BC Ministry of Agriculture’s Abbotsford Agriculture Centre, December 11. DAVID SCHMIDT PHOTO

advertised and sparsely attended. As a result, only about two dozen people took advantage of the opportunity.

The plant health lab employs three

diagnosticians and an entomologist as well as two temporary employees working on research projects. Most of its work is with the Fraser Valley berry industry, although hops are becoming more common. Plant testing costs $25 a sample. Plants are

thoroughly tested for parasites, as well as fungal, bacterial and viral diseases. In most cases, growers will bring in the samples, although in rare instances, the plant pathologist will go into the field to try to identify a problem. “We prefer people bring in whole plants with the roots and soil intact,” Pritchard explained, adding “there really isn’t another diagnostic facility like this in BC.” Most of the animal health lab’s samples come from regional veterinarians who need help determining why a particular bird or animal is suffering or has died. The lab accepts both domestic and wild birds and animals with rates differing for commercial and companion animals. In most cases, the lab receives tissue samples, although it is able to accept whole animals up to 3,000 pounds. “The largest animals we have

taken in were a giraffe and a sea lion,” Pritchard said.

She notes the lab does not just

test for bacteria but also tests which antibiotics will work on the bacteria. Once testing is completed, the sample is destroyed in its on-site licensed crematorium.

The lab uses an wide variety of high-tech instrumentation in its testing, including an electron microscope capable of magnifying a sample up to 350,000 times. “The next closest electron microscope for veterinary work is in Saskatoon,” Pritchard said.

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47