NW Week

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Avian flu has killed 1.7M birds in Canada, according to farmers

1.7 million birds have died as a result of avian flu in Canada.

Key Takeaways:

  • Because avian influenza has a high mortality rate, birds in epidemic areas are humanely slaughtered to prevent the virus from spreading.
  • Alberta has been the hardest hit, with 900,000 birds slaughtered and 23 farms affected. The province of Ontario has been hit the hardest, with 23 farms and 425,000 birds slaughtered.

Every day, David Hyink checks on his barns with apprehension.

Lethargy, lack of appetite, or a general appearance of ‘droopiness’ in his chickens are all possible indicators of the highly virulent H5N1 avian influenza strain circulating in both wild and domestic flocks across North America, according to the central Alberta chicken farmer.

Hyink understands that if the sickness spreads to his farm, he will lose his entire flock. Because avian influenza has a high fatality rate, birds in epidemic areas that do not die from the disease are humanely exterminated to stop the virus from spreading.

“While we haven’t had it on our farm, I hope we don’t,” Hyink added, “it appears it could be anyone.” “You never know when it’ll be the farm next door or us.”

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, that kind of uncertainty is fueling high levels of dread and stress on Canadian farms, where poultry and egg producers have lost excess than 1.7 million birds to avian influenza since late 2021. (The figure includes both birds that died from the illness and birds euthanized.)

Also read: COVID rapid test is lagging behind new variants, scientists states

Alberta has been impacted the most, with 900,000 birds killed and 23 farms affected. Ontario has been impacted the hardest, with 23 farms affected and 425,000 birds killed.

However, except for Prince Edward Island, the virus has already spread to every province. To assist stop the spread of the disease, farmers across the country are being urged to keep birds indoors, limit visitation, and increase biosecurity measures. Direct contact between birds can spread the virus, but it can also be disseminated readily from wild bird droppings and brought into commercial flocks on workers’ feet or equipment.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, while avian influenza was first found in Canada in 2004, this year’s strain is “unprecedented” in terms of its worldwide impact.

The new strain is highly contagious and self-sustaining in wild bird populations. While there’s a chance that case counts could drop once spring bird migration concludes in June, farmers are left wondering where and when the next outbreak will occur.

“You just don’t know,” Hyink explained, “and you do your best.” “I suppose you have to have a genuine acceptance attitude while coping with whatever happens.”

Although farmers who lose flocks to avian influenza are entitled to government compensation, the disease has created a major disruption in the business, according to Jean-Michel Laurin, Canadian Poultry, and Egg Processors Council. Some producers whose barns have been quarantined and cannot transfer product because they have tested negative for the virus on their farms but are physically located near outbreak sites.

1.7 million birds have died as a result of avian flu in Canada.
1.7 million birds have died as a result of avian flu in Canada. Image from Ground News

Despite this, Laurin claims that consumers have not been affected by any shortages because the Canadian egg and poultry supply chain is holding up well. He added that part of the reason for this is that, unlike in the United States, where large industrial-scale barns are more common, an outbreak on one farm may wipe out a whole supply chain, and chicken barns in Canada are often smaller family-run operations.

“In that sense, we have a much more resilient supply chain,” Laurin added. “We’ve been able to stay afloat based on the evidence thus far on the impact on consumers.”

This supply chain resiliency has also insulated consumers of eggs and poultry from the type of grocery store sticker shock found south of the border. Where Canadian consumers have experienced price rises for chicken and eggs, Laurin believes it is due to growing feed grain costs and overall inflation more than avian flu.

Still, Laurin believes there is a lot of ambiguity about what will happen next. The last large avian flu outbreak in Canada occurred in 2014, but it was limited to British Columbia and not nearly as extensive as the current variant.

“If you ask me if this stuff will become endemic in Canada as it has in Europe for the past two years, the answer is no,” Laurin said.

While avian influenza can cause illness in people on rare occasions, officials believe it usually occurs due to intimate contact with infected birds or in extremely contaminated settings.

Humans cannot get avian influenza from eating birds or eggs because it is not a food-borne sickness.

Source: CTV News

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