From the ground up: holistic management and grassroots rural adaptation to bovine spongiform encephalopathy across western Canada

  • Stéphane M. McLachlanEmail author
  • Melisa Yestrau
Original Article


Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been documented in 28 countries and adversely affected farmers and rural communities around the world. Our study examines the impacts of and adaptive responses of producers to BSE in western Canada. Moreover, it explores the role that holistic management (HM), and its combined focus on environmental, social, and economic sustainability, might play in mitigating the effects of BSE. One survey was sent to 835 HM producers and another to 9,740 producers across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The disease, and concomitant climate change and low commodity prices, had devastating impacts on both groups. Yet, HM producers were much more optimistic about their ability to adapt to BSE and the future of agriculture than their non-HM counterparts. Social networks, namely HM clubs and the larger HM community, enabled these producers to mitigate the impacts of BSE. Agronomic responses, especially those associated with rotational grazing and increases in on-farm biodiversity were also important. That HM has been such an effective adaptive response to BSE indicates the importance of this and other grassroots responses to rural crises, whether they be associated with zoonotic diseases or indeed environmental change as a whole.


Adaptation BSE Global livestock industry Grassroots Mad cow disease Rural decline Social networks Sustainability Vulnerability 



Thanks to all the farmers and other rural residents across the prairies who so generously offered their insights and who facilitated our understanding of these outcomes. Special thanks to Don Guilford and the Big Grass HM Club for their support and advice. Thanks to Carol Amaratunga, Josephine Smart, Wilfreda Thurston, and all others involved in the Farm Family Health Coalition. Thanks also to Stephen Gaunt, Jacqueline Kotyk, Dave Vasey, and Robyn Webb, all of whom assisted with this project as well as the Environmental Conservation Lab for their ongoing support, particularly Colin Anderson, Alam Ashraful, Ryan Brook, Ian Mauro, and Troy Stozek.. This project was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC), Manitoba Conservation and was further supported by PrioNet Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Conservation Lab, Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and, ResourcesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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