Canadian poultry industry on high alert as avian influenza spreads north

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As of March 30, there are three confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza on commercial poultry farms in Ontario.

That’s in addition to a case in a commercial turkey flock in Nova Scotia and positive findings in wild birds in six Canadian provinces. The H5N1 pathotype has also been found in commercial flocks in at least 18 U.S. states, including states along the Canada-U.S. border.

The trio of cases found in Ontario are in Woolwich Township, Zorra Township, and the Guelph/Eramosa Township. The initial two cases involve turkeys.

Lisa Bishop-Spencer, director of brand and communications for Chicken Farmers of Canada, says the main focus right now is on limiting the spread of the disease to new locations.

“The overall intent for these kinds of things is if it’s in, keep it in, if it’s out, keep it out,” Bishop-Spencer says.

Ontario is the largest poultry producing province in the country, accounting for around a third of Canadian chicken and egg production, and nearly half of national turkey production.

Working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Bishop-Spencer says farms in the area of the confirmed cases are under quarantine and are now surrounded by a control zone. That means that all bird movement into and out of the affected farms as well as other farms on in the neighbourhood or in the area is controlled by permit.

Farmers are taking extra biosecurity measures on the farm, as well. There’s extra sanitizing of tires and wheel wells before a truck can enter the property and again, as they leave. This is in addition to the daily biosecurity measures, such as limiting access, dedicated footwear and more.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza is carried and spread by wild birds. As birds migrate north, they can bring the disease with them.

“This is exactly the time of year that we start to, to worry about this. And we take it very seriously. We have to ensure that we’re doing everything we can around this time of year to mitigate any possible spread as much as we can,” Bishop-Spencer says.

In Ontario, the Feather Board Command Centre has taken the lead on communication with all parts of the poultry value chain, including those with backyard flocks, to be on alert for unexplained mortality in birds, where the control zones are, and more.

She adds that consumers should know that all poultry and eggs produced is safe to eat — avian influenza does not pose a risk through food products.

Editor’s note: The CFIA reported a third confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza on a commercial farm in Ontario on Wednesday. This article originally stated there were two confirmed cases in Ontario.

If you are concerned about your own poultry being sick or dying, and are in Ontario, you can call: 226-217-8022

If you find a dead wild bird, you can call the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Help Centre, as they may be interested in testing these birds. Please contact them directly at 1-866-673-4781

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