Ag Policy Connection Ep. 6 — Building the playbook for avian influenza (and other animal health threats)


It was 2004, less than a year after BSE hit the Canadian cattle industry, when Canada’s first outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) devastated poultry production in B.C.

Without any playbook on how to manage the virus, a decision was made to cull all the birds on commercial farms in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. While 53 sites tested positive, a total of 16.2 million birds were ordered destroyed, and the economic cost was estimated north of $393 million.

Fast forward to this past winter, 103 premises in BC have been infected in the 2022-23 outbreak, and B.C. is not alone this time around, but there’s been no mass cull as the playbook for managing the virus has evolved.

This episode of the Ag Policy Connection podcast explores the lessons learned from that first outbreak of avian influenza in 2004, and how they apply today, both in terms of the current unprecedented avian influenza situation, and in broader animal health disease scenarios, such as African swine fever or foot and mouth disease.

While the virus in 2004 was limited to B.C., the current HPAI outbreak is the largest reportable animal disease outbreak in Canadian history. It’s affecting commercial farms from coast to coast, putting a much different level of demand on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), provincial governments, and industry resources.

What lessons were learned in 2004? What happens if the current virus becomes endemic? Why is it important that the right financial incentives are in place for producers? What’s the role for industry and provinces when the CFIA’s capacity is tested? What are the lessons that apply to other animal disease scenarios, such as ASF or FMD?

These are some of the questions and topics we discuss in this episode, with the following panelists:

  • Rory McAlpine — Rory was a senior vice-president of Maple Leaf Foods — Canada’s largest poultry and meat company — from 2005 to 2020. Prior to joining Maple Leaf, he was the deputy minister of agriculture for the B.C. government from 2003 to 2005. Rory’s currently a director for the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
  • Harvey Sasaki — Harvey was the chair of the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board until December 2022. He’s also a poultry industry consultant and was B.C.’s assistant deputy minister of agriculture during the 2004 outbreak.
  • Steve Leech — Steve is actively involved in the response to avian influenza in his role as the director of food safety and animal health for Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC), serving as a liaison between the CFIA and provincial boards/producers. He’s been at CFC going back to the first AI event in 2004.

I’ll add a personal note-from-the-host to this one again. Some of you already know, but for disclosure sake, my family has a broiler hatching egg chicken operation, so I’m really wearing both podcast host and poultry producer hats on this episode. AI is certainly something we’ve thought about a lot over the past year.

The Ag Policy Connection is brought to you by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute and RealAgriculture. 

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