Canadian farmers battle bird flu as bird death toll reaches 1.7 million

Canadian farmers battle bird flu as bird death toll reaches 1.7 million

Calgary – When David Hynek checks his pens every day, he does so with a sense of dread.

A chicken farmer in central Alberta is looking for lethargy, lack of appetite, or just the general appearance of “drooping” in his birds – all of which may be signs of the highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 bird flu currently circulating in both the wild and domestic flocks across North America.

If disease appears on his property, Heinek knows it will mean losing his entire flock. Avian influenza has a high mortality rate, and those birds in outbreak sites that do not die from the disease are humanely killed to prevent the spread of the virus.

“While we didn’t have it on our farm, and I hope we don’t, it looks like it could be anyone,” Hyink said. “It could be us then, the farm next door to us – you just don’t know.”

It is this kind of uncertainty that drives high levels of fear and stress on Canadian farms, where – according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – poultry and egg producers have lost more than 1.7 million birds to bird flu since late 2021. The birds that died from the virus and the birds that died She died mercifully.)

Alberta is the worst affected province, with 900,000 birds killed and 23 farms damaged. Ontario is the second hardest-hit region, with 23 farms affected and 425,000 birds dead.

But the virus outbreak has now appeared in every county except Prince Edward Island. Across the country, farmers are being encouraged to keep birds indoors, visitors are restricted, and biosecurity measures are ramping up to help stop the spread of the disease. The virus can spread between birds through direct contact, but it also spreads easily from wild bird droppings and can be transmitted to commercial flocks on workers’ feet or on equipment.

While bird flu was first detected in Canada in 2004, this year’s strain — which has also been wreaking havoc in Europe and Asia — is “unprecedented” in terms of its global impact, according to CFIA.

The new breed is highly transmissible and appears to maintain itself among wild bird groups. While there is some hope that the number of cases may drop when the spring bird migration ends in June, for now, farmers are left wondering where and when the next outbreak will occur.

“You just don’t know, and you’re doing your best,” Heinek said. “I think you have to have a real attitude of acceptance, in terms of dealing with whatever is going on.”

While farmers who have lost flocks to bird flu are eligible for government compensation, the disease continues to cause significant disruption to the industry, said Jean-Michel Lorraine, chief executive of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council. Some producers who have tested positive for the virus on their property but are physically located near outbreak sites, their hangars have been quarantined, and cannot ship the product.

However, Lauren said consumers have not been affected by any shortages, as the Canadian supply chain as a whole for eggs and poultry is still holding up well. Part of the reason for this, he said, is that unlike in the United States — where industrial-sized sheds are more common, which means an outbreak on a property can lead to a huge amount of supply — Canadian chicken coops tend to be smaller Family run operations.

“We have a much more flexible supply chain, in that sense,” Lauren said. “Based on the evidence so far about the impact on the consumer, we have weathered the storm.”

And this supply-chain flexibility has provided the kind of sticky shock protection in grocery stores that egg and poultry consumers have seen south of the border. In fact, Lauren said that where Canadian consumers have noticed increases in the cost of things like chicken and eggs, it has more to do with the higher cost of feed grain and general inflation than it does with bird flu.

However, Lauren said there is a great deal of uncertainty about what will happen next. The last major outbreak of bird flu in Canada was in 2014, although that was limited to British Columbia and was not as widespread as the current strain.

“If you ask me if this thing is going to become as endemic in Canada as it is in Europe for two years now — the answer is we don’t know,” Lauren said.

Health officials say that while bird flu can sometimes cause illness in humans, it is rare and will be the result of close contact with infected birds or highly polluted environments.

Avian influenza is not a foodborne disease and humans cannot contract the virus by eating poultry or eggs.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on May 6, 2022.

2022-05-06 21:01:23

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