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Commentary: Scary impact on Alberta's poultry industry

According to Health Canada, there is no evidence that the avian influenza virus can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of poultry and eggs
opinion

For the first time ever, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed bird flu in several Alberta poultry flocks, which is not only devastating to poultry farmers but can have a potential long lasting impact on food production.

I grew up on a broiler-breeder poultry farm in Alberta, producing enough fertilized eggs to supply chicks for roughly one meat-producing broiler farm each week.

That means, shutting down just one broiler breeder farm in Alberta has an impact on 52 farms per year that supply the chicken that ends up on your table. 

I don’t want to be alarmist or anything, but you might want to satisfy your chicken cravings now before prices skyrocket.

According to Health Canada, there is no evidence that the avian influenza virus can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of poultry and eggs.

Since the start of April, 23 flocks were confirmed to have the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) by the CFIA, impacting birds ranging from hatching eggs chicken farms, broiler chicken, commercial egg-layer farms, turkey farms, and backyard flocks. 

While commercial poultry producers follow strict biosecurity practices, the airborne virus spreads easily and can infect birds through contamination or ventilation in a barn.

According to the CFIA, infected facilities in Alberta have been placed under quarantine and investigations and movement control measures are ongoing.

While avian influenza is not a significant public health concern for healthy people, according to the CFIA, the virus can decimate an entire flock of commercially produced birds in under a week.

The recent outbreak began last year in Europe and has since spread to the United States and Canada. Cases have also been confirmed in Asia and Africa.

With cases spreading in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Alberta, it is devastating infected commercial farms with its very high mortality rate.

The CFIA has set up its emergency response operations on infected farms in Alberta, carrying out measures including the euthanization of infected and exposed animals, surveillance and tracing, strict quarantine measures, and decontamination of facilities.

With the risk of wild birds carrying the virus migrating to and through Canada in the spring and fall months, backyard hobby flocks and pet birds aren’t safe either.

There is no treatment for birds infected with the disease and bird owners are legally obligated to notify authorities of serious bird diseases like avian influenza.

As a kid, we were constantly told to change our boots and use hand sanitizer when entering barns. There was a good reason behind these small biosecurity measures.

For more information on how to prevent spread or monitor for symptoms, go to inspection.canada.ca and search avian flu.

Masha Scheele is a reporter with the Rocky View Weekly.