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Avian flu puts pressure on producers, consumers

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Avian flu outbreaks in Manitoba are on the rise, with 18 reported this year, according to the Government of Canada's website.

The Canadian Press

Harley Siemens was traveling to Calgary when he got bad news from his egg farm in Manitoba.

“I got the call that there may be something wrong,” he said.

Two and a half days later, birds in his barn tested positive for avian influenza.

“My heart sank,” Siemens said. “It was not a very good day.”

As director of Manitoba Egg Farmers, he knew the long and involved process that was about to follow.

Access to the farm would be monitored in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading to nearby farms. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) would come to the barn, culling and disposing of all the birds inside. Then, they’d oversee the barn’s disinfection.

The job took about two months, which Siemens says is in part due to the CFIA responding to many positive avian flu cases this fall in Manitoba and across Canada.

Avian influenza, sometimes called bird flu, is a virus that infects birds and on rare occasion, humans.

Outbreaks in commercial bird facilities in Canada most often occur in spring and fall when migratory birds carrying the disease come into contact with poultry.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, there have been 18 infected premises reported this year in Manitoba, impacting about 286,600 birds.

Avian flu outbreaks in Canada have had enormous economic tolls in the past. In 2004, 19 million poultry were culled as a result of outbreaks in B.C.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food policy at Dalhousie University, says Canada’s response to avian flu has evolved with research and experience, and that producers are generally quick to report suspected cases.

“They’re more aware of biosecurity measures that they need to implement, and it’s paying off,” he said. “We’re really avoiding a disaster, but still the disease is still out there, unfortunately, and it’s moving around pretty quickly.”

With outbreaks on the rise heading into the holiday season, Charlebois fears prices for poultry and eggs could rise even higher than the 17 and 20 per cent they have already this year, respectively.

“If you need a turkey, I would probably go out and buy it right now,” he said.

Charlebois says scientists are looking into a vaccine for poultry to contain the spread of the virus, but such a treatment is a way out yet.

After the outbreak on his farm, Siemens is taking all the precautions he can to prevent it from happening again.

“As long as we can stay on top of it and we make sure our biosecurity is high, and limit our interactions from barn to barn, then that’s the best we can do,” he said.

Canadian Food Inspection AgencyCFIAChickenbird fluAvian Fluavian influenzaManitoba Egg Farmers

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