Cases of avian influenza in birds across Canada rose sharply before the fall, according to federal government data. shows.
Commonly known as bird flu or H5N1, the virus spreads rapidly among chickens, ducks, quail, and other birds, through close contact with infected birds or their droppings. It is almost always fatal, leaving farmers with the difficult decision to cull or watch the virus spread.
It is rare for humans to contract the virus, but farmers say they are taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their businesses.
Farmers in Alberta in particular saw an increase in cases in their flocks, with the province reporting 1.1 million affected birds as of September 27.
“We’re very concerned about our business,” Jeff Notenbomer, owner of Willow Creek Poultry in Fort Macleod, Alta., told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday. “It’s constant every day. There are so many things that are out of your control.”
If a farmer thinks the birds are infected, they notify a veterinarian or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) animal health office. According to the Government of CanadaThere are no treatments for birds that become infected, and the virus is almost never transmitted to humans.
With the rate of infections rising, Notenbomer says the virus has the potential to wipe out a farm in four days.
“If we repopulate the entire farm, it would take a year and a half to two years to get back to full production,” he said of his own facility. The Notenbomer farm raises laying hens and has about 25,000 birds.
The disease can be carried through trade and wild birds.
There is currently a US ban on live birds, products and by-products, which has 46.8 million poultry and 2,650 wild birds known to be infected. The flight migration patterns of geese and ducks to Canada are another way the disease spreads.
Notenbomer says the bird flu strain appears to be stronger this year, spreading rapidly and affecting more chickens than in previous years.
“Everyone is nervous,” Notenbomer said of the industry’s farmers. “Talking to growers who have had avian influenza, they are devastated.”
The poultry industry is divided into categories, with birds, eggs, hatching eggs and turkeys experiencing different impacts and recovery rates due to the flu, Notenbomer said.
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food policy and distribution at Dalhousie University, said the latest outbreak of bird flu has hit duck sales and meat availability.
“We have seen a devastating situation in the duck,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Monday. “In fact, you’re lucky to find duck in the supermarket as a result of what happened… with the bird flu.”
Duck sales have not rebounded in the same way as chicken sales, despite Charlebois noting that an earlier outbreak in the spring pushed chicken prices up 10 to 14 percent, on average.
According to Canada StatisticsChicken retail prices have risen more slowly than beef and pork over the past decade, with the price increasing 16.1% from January 2011 to December 2021.
“With the spike again this fall, we expect another jump, probably from early winter to late winter 2023,” Charlebois said of chicken prices.
As Thanksgiving approaches, families have noticed that the price per kilogram of turkey has increased by an average of 15% since last year and 22% since March 2020, according to a September 2022 report from Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analysis Laboratory.
Despite this, Charlebois says that avian influenza will not affect dinners this Thanksgiving.
“Most of the turkeys that are going to be bought this week have already been harvested,” he explained.
If farmers can contain the outbreaks, Charlebois said the industry will be able to recover quickly.
IMPACT OF BIRD FLU
Clusters of bird flu cases are emerging across the country, especially in Alberta and Ontario, which have the highest concentrations of bird flu.
According to the Government of Canada, Ontario has two outbreak zones, one just north of London and one just east of Ottawa. Large tracts of land around Quebec City are also under control, ensuring that bird movement is kept to a minimum. As each farm reports cases, a 10-kilometre radius is automatically entered to ask nearby farmers to keep an eye on livestock and keep an eye on wind patterns. According to the government, a case will trigger the outbreak due to its contagious nature.
Most of the cases across the country are around Edmonton. There are also cases in southern Manitoba, around Winnipeg, and near Regina in Saskatchewan.
Avian flu affects all birds, including pets and exotic species, if they come into contact with infected birds. Last month, a popular bird sanctuary in Owen Sound, Ontario, euthanized 96 birds after the virus was detected.
Birds that did not die from the flu were humanely euthanized to stop the spread, the CFIA previously told CTV News Barrie. Six swans in the sanctuary were not euthanized because they are descendants of royal swans gifted by King George V in 1912 to the town of Owen Sound. The birds are in quarantine and are being closely monitored.
Before April 2022, it had been 15 years since bird flu was detected in Saskatchewan. Now, the province’s Ministry of Agriculture has ordered limits on the movement of birds until October 21.
the Calgary Zoo took precautions by closing its Rainforest Aviary last week to protect its birds from possible infection.
Notenbomer says that farmers and poultry owners are attuned to their livestock and know immediately if one is sick. He says some signs include a lack of energy or appetite, decreased egg production, swelling around the head, and coughing or shortness of breath.
He says that farmers should take the necessary precautions regarding the movement of animals in outbreak areas to minimize cases. They should also be aware of wind and dust patterns from neighboring farms that can spread the virus from the manure.
Other tools to slow the spread include farmers changing shoes, clothing, and equipment while working in stalls near livestock.