‘A lot of uncertainty’: B.C. has highest number of avian flu outbreaks in Canada

Abbotsford, B.C. –

Fourteen months after Dave Martens’ chicken barns on Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie were flooded, the repairs are almost complete and he finally has birds again.

“So far, our birds are healthy and doing well,” he said.

And he hopes it stays that way.

Dozens of other poultry farmers in B.C. continue to face difficulties after their flocks were hit by avian flu.

“Definitely our thoughts are with a lot of producers that are struggling right now,” said Martens.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, 70 farms in B.C. are currently infected, impacting more than 3.6 million birds.

By comparison, the next highest numbers in Canada are found in Alberta, where 14 farms and 1.4 million birds are affected. Ontario has 10 premises infected.

“This is very stressful because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Ray Nickel of the BC Poultry Industry Emergency Operations Centre.

But he says things have improved somewhat.

“We’re really working in the clean up stage, trying to get the farms back into production that were affected,” he said. “It’s been a real struggle. Middle of November into Christmas, we were seemingly getting new cases every day … That has definitely been correcting itself.”

During that time period, B.C.’s agriculture minister said it was tough for workers to keep up with the demands for depopulating infected farms.

“There were issues with not being able to attend to all the farms in a timely fashion,” said Pam Alexis, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, noting that it is a federal responsibility.

“We actually got on the phone and worked with the federal government to bring in teams to help with the depopulation so we could do it in a timely fashion. So that was one of the biggest hurdles that we faced,” said Alexis.

“Everybody is doing their best to try and prevent a further outbreak,” she said, adding that there have been eight new farms with outbreaks this month.

Nationally and internationally, producers are looking for solutions to a problem that Nickel said has become endemic.

“Our bird populations are carrying the virus and it’s something that we’re going to have to strategize around not only in B.C. and here in Canada, but in other parts of North America,” he said.

Vaccinating birds could be part of a potential solution.

“Vaccination, for one thing, is something being seriously looked at and considered and there’s ways that is being implemented,” said Nickel.

“It’s also complicated because it has to be done together with our trading partners and other countries,” he added, emphasizing that avian flu is “an animal health issue, not a human health issue.”

Meanwhile, farmers like Martens are working to keep their flocks disease free.

“It’s stressful, obviously. It’s how we make our income. It’s how we make our livelihood,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can and we’re practising good biosecurity and we don’t let anyone in our barns.”

Only this month, Martens finished most of the required rebuilding and repairs from the flooding disaster of 2021. He lost 40,000 birds in the floods.

He hopes avian flu stays away from his farm and he can avoid further losses. 

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