British Columbia’s Poultry Farmers Well-Prepared to Combat Potential Avian Flu Outbreaks

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The poultry industry in British Columbia is facing considerable pressure to protect its flocks from a highly contagious strain of avian flu that has been spreading across North America. Ray Nickel, the spokesperson for the B.C. Poultry Association Emergency Operations Centre, emphasized that lessons learned from previous outbreaks are being employed to prevent infections after two severe incidents since 2004 that necessitated the culling of millions of birds.

The H5N1 strain of avian flu is recognized as highly pathogenic, capable of causing severe illness and death in birds, as noted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Recent confirmation of avian flu on a farm in North Okanagan has generated increased worry among poultry farmers in the region.

Nickel, a commercial poultry farmer in Abbotsford and a member of the BC Chicken Marketing Board, expressed concern for the welfare of animals due to the severe impact of the disease. He acknowledged the unease among farmers and the sense of fear that comes with the current situation.

Similar outbreaks of the same avian flu strain have also been identified in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The CFIA highlighted that this has been an unprecedented year globally for avian flu, attributing the outbreaks to migratory birds and anticipating more cases as these birds migrate north for the summer.

The Fraser Valley, home to a significant proportion of B.C.’s poultry farms, lies along the Pacific Flyway, a key bird migration route. This geographical location heightens the risk of transmission between migratory birds and domestic poultry.

Previous outbreaks, including a severe one in 2004, have led to the culling of millions of birds, underlining the importance of vigilance and preparation. Poultry farmers in B.C. are well-equipped to manage potential outbreaks due to their prior experience and the lessons drawn from them. These experiences inform the implementation of proactive measures to prevent the disease’s spread.

Biosecurity measures and emergency management strategies, established in response to past outbreaks, have played a role in controlling the virus’s spread in subsequent years. The B.C. Poultry Association operates an emergency response team using an incident command structure to enable rapid responses to flu outbreaks.

The emphasis on biosecurity in B.C. is notable, with the province having a mandatory biosecurity program enforced by the marketing board. Recent steps include orders to move commercial poultry flocks with more than 100 birds indoors to limit their exposure to the virus.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham urged all poultry producers, including backyard poultry owners, to enhance biosecurity practices and remain vigilant for signs of avian influenza. While the outbreak poses significant challenges, the CFIA noted that there have been no human cases detected in Canada, and the illness is not considered a significant health concern for healthy individuals who do not have regular contact with infected birds.