A Canadian hero

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

He’s not a sports star, an emotive politician or a polished stage performer but Arnold Van Ginkel deserves to be known as a Canadian hero for simply doing the right thing at considerable cost to himself.

You may have heard of him as the man whose pig herd in central Alberta came down with the H1N1 Influenza back in April. In early June, the 3,000 animals on his farm were culled because he was unable to sell his healthy ones or rid his property of the flu bug.

The reason he deserves hero status is that rather than trying to nurse his herd back to health – pigs suffer the flu much as humans do and can recover – when it first got sick, he did the right thing by reporting his situation to health officials especially as it appeared the bug had come from a worker who had just returned from Mexico.

By doing that, Van Ginkel confined the H1N1 to his herd rather than selling pigs to other farmers or shipping them to market where they could have made other pigs and possibly humans sick and spread the disease. As it is, 10 countries including China have banned Canadian pork on trumped up excuses that make a mockery of assurances from the World Health Organization that eating cooked pork is not going to give you the flu.

It’s worth pointing out that the latest statistics from the Public Health Agency of Canada indicate that the H1N1 virus making the rounds through human to human transmission has killed four Canadians and sickened another 2,446. It may not be a pandemic but it’s not a disease to be sneezed at.

In the vernacular, Van Ginkel took one for the team. He put the well being of Canadian agriculture above his own personal situation. Let’s hope the federal and provincial governments don’t foot drag on his reasonable request for compensation.

Van Ginkel says "I am disappointed that I have to cull these animals but the presence of the H1N1 virus in my herd left me with few options. With the quarantine still in place, I was facing another partial cull due to overcrowding and no prospects for marketing my animals once they were given a clean bill of health. The only real option left was to have a complete cull and end the uncertainty for my farm and for the entire pork industry.

"We came to Alberta from Holland for a chance to start a new life and this entire event has been extremely stressful for my family. We will now need to start over and build a future for our family. I ask that the media and the public respect our privacy as we take the next few weeks to recover from this ordeal." When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is satisfied his farm has been thoroughly disinfected, he hopes to start raising pigs again.

So come Canada Day spare a thought for Arnold Van Ginkel who reminded us of what it takes to be a real hero.

12 June 2009 — Return to cover.