Temporary website updates are in progress to fix technical issues. For assistance, visit our Contact Us page.

CFIA reference laboratories and collaborating centres

An aerial view of the Lethbridge laboratory, part of the National Centre for Animal Disease.

On this page

Background and impact

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is one of Canada's largest science-based agencies and a trusted, internationally recognized leader in scientific expertise and leadership. The CFIA works closely with multisector and multidisciplinary partners around the world to advance One Health priorities that aim to improve the health and wellbeing of humans, animals, plants and the environment and address common threats.

Four CFIA laboratories are recognized by the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as Office International des Épizooties (OIE)), the World Health Organization of the United Nations (WHO) or the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for scientific excellence and leadership in 15 areas of expertise related to animal diseases and foodborne parasites. Each also has a designated reference expert, head or contact – a leading researcher on the diagnosis and control of the disease in question. These laboratories provide scientific and technical advice to WOAH, WHO or FAO. The CFIA's reference laboratories and collaborating centres are categorized as follows:

The CFIA's reference laboratories and collaborating centres protect the health and well-being of people, animals and the economy, both in Canada and internationally. The scientific work at these laboratories helps Canada:

  • detect animal diseases
  • collaborate on research to monitor, control and eradicate these diseases
  • contribute to international standards for managing disease and trading animals and animal products

The economic impacts of reference laboratories and collaborating centres are particularly important for Canada, a nation that exports much of its agricultural production.

Example: CFIA's reference laboratory for BSE protects animal health, public health and the economy

The CFIA's National Centre for Animal Disease (NCAD) in Lethbridge, Alberta, is a WOAH Reference Laboratory for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The laboratory plays a critical role in protecting people and animals from fatal disease, while also supporting Canada's multi-billion dollar beef export market.

Canada has many safeguards in place to limit risks of BSE to human and animal health. Canada's BSE surveillance program targets the highest risk animals and actively monitors the level of BSE in the national cattle herd. The surveillance program's objectives are to determine and monitor the level of BSE present in Canada and to confirm the effectiveness of the suite of measures Canada has implemented to protect human and animal health from the disease.

As a BSE reference laboratory, the NCAD is the only laboratory in Canada that can confirm a suspected case of BSE through testing. Through the reference laboratory network, the NCAD also leads an international team conducting ground-breaking research on prion diseases, which includes BSE, as well as chronic wasting disease and scrapie.

The NCAD's contributions to Canada's robust BSE surveillance program gives Canadians and international consumers confidence that Canada is taking responsible actions to monitor the health of the national herd. The results of the program help Canada keep its "negligible BSE risk status", as recognized by WOAH. This status clearly acknowledges the effectiveness of Canada's BSE surveillance and risk-mitigation measures, and is essential to secure and maintain international market access for Canada's top-quality cattle and beef products.

WOAH Reference Laboratories

WOAH Reference Laboratories are internationally recognized centres of expertise on specific animal diseases. When there is a suspected case of a disease in a region, a sample is sent to the appropriate WOAH Reference Laboratory for confirmation through diagnostic laboratory tests. The results are then shared with the relevant authorities responsible for managing and controlling these diseases. These laboratories play a critical role in protecting human and animal health, both in Canada and abroad. In addition to confirmatory testing to support disease monitoring, response and control, these laboratories also share scientific expertise with the global WOAH community. This collaboration helps protect people, animals and trade – not just in Canada, but around the world. More information is available in the WOAH Reference Laboratories terms of reference.

The CFIA's WOAH Reference Laboratories are:

WOAH Collaborating Centres

WOAH Collaborating Centres are centres of animal health research and expertise that create standards and share knowledge around the management of a particular issue (for example, animal welfare, veterinary training, etc.). The expertise of each collaborating centre is shared with all WOAH member countries. More information is available in the WOAH Collaborating Centres terms of reference.

The Centre for Foodborne and Animal Parasitology at the CFIA Saskatoon Laboratory is a WOAH Collaborating Centre with expertise in foodborne zoonotic parasites (contact: Dr. Brad Scandrett).

WHO collaborating centres

WHO collaborating centres are national institutions (often research institutes or universities) that carry out activities to support WHO programs nationally, regionally, and internationally. WHO collaborating centres develop and share tools and information, and participate in collaborative research within their area of expertise. This strengthens both Canada's health development and the scientific validity of the global health network.

The CFIA Ottawa Laboratory (Fallowfield) is a WHO collaborating centre with expertise in the control and epidemiology of rabies in carnivores (Head: Dr. Christine Fehlner-Gardiner).

FAO Reference Centres

A scientist in a biohazard suit looks into a microscope in a laboratory at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease

FAO Reference Centres provide independent technical and scientific advice, diagnostic services, training, and research and developmental studies to FAO member countries to prevent and control major poultry, livestock, and wildlife diseases.

The CFIA Winnipeg Laboratory, or NCFAD, is an FAO reference centre with the following areas of expertise:

  • foot-and-mouth disease and other vesicular diseases (contact: Dr. Charles Nfon)
  • zoonotic and emerging pathogens (contact: Dr. Brad Pickering)

Designation

Reference laboratories and collaborating centres are designated to provide scientific and technical expertise on specific diseases. Designation as a reference laboratory or collaborating centre is a sign of scientific excellence and contributes to the integrity and credibility of the CFIA, as well as WOAH, WHO and FAO.

Information for scientists and veterinarians

Animal owners, veterinarians and laboratories are required to immediately report the presence of an animal that has or is suspected of having a reportable disease to a CFIA district veterinarian.

More information on reference laboratories and collaborating centres, including annual reports, data and results, are available at:

More information