Canada

Bird flu cases on the rise: What this means for poultry and egg prices


Cases of avian influenza in birds across Canada rose sharply heading into the fall, data from the federal government shows.


Known commonly as bird flu or H5N1, the virus spreads quickly among chickens, ducks, quail and other fowl, through close contact with infected birds or their excrement. It is almost always lethal, leaving farmers with the difficult decision to euthanize or watch the virus spread.


It is rare for humans to contract the virus, but farmers say they are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and their businesses.


Farmers in Alberta in particular saw a rise of cases in their flocks, with the province reporting 1.1 million birds impacted as of Sept. 27.


“We’re very concerned for our business,” Jeff Notenbomer, owner of Willow Creek Poultry in Fort Macleod, Alta., told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday. “It’s constant every day. There are so many things that are out of your control.”


If a farmer believes bird(s) are infected, they notify a veterinarian or the animal health office at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). According to the Government of Canada, there are no treatments for birds that become infected and the virus is hardly ever passed on to humans.


With the rate of infections climbing, Notenbomer says the virus has the potential to wipe out a farm within four days.


“If we did repopulate the whole farm, it would take us about a year-and-a-half to two years to get back to full production,” he said of his own facility. Notenbomer’s farm breeds laying hens and has around 25,000 birds.


The disease can be transported through trade and wild birds.


Currently, there is a ban on live birds, products and by-products from the U.S., which has 46.8 million poultry and 2,650 known wild birds infected. Flight migration patterns of geese and ducks into Canada is another way the disease spreads.


Notenbomer says the bird flu strain seems to be stronger this year, spreading quickly and affecting more chickens than in previous years.


“Everybody’s on edge,” Notenbomer said of farmers across the industry. “Speaking with the producers who had avian influenza, they’re devastated.”


The bird farming industry is broken down into categories, with poultry, eggs, hatching eggs and turkeys experiencing different impacts and recovery rates due to the flu, Notenbomer said.


Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy, said the latest avian influenza outbreak has impacted duck sales and meat availability.


“We’ve seen a devastating situation in duck,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Monday. “In fact, you’re lucky to find duck at all at the grocery store as a result of what has happened … with the avian flu.”


Duck sales have not recovered the same way chicken sales have, despite Charlebois noting a previous outbreak during the spring increased the price for chicken between 10 to 14 per cent, on average.


According to Statistics Canada, retail prices for chicken have rose slower than beef and pork over the last decade, with the price increasing 16.1 per cent from January 2011 to December 2021.


“With the upswing again this fall, we are expecting another jump, probably early winter to end of winter 2023,” Charlebois said of chicken prices.


As Thanksgiving rounds the corner, families have noticed the per-kilogram price of turkey has increased by an average of 15 per cent since last year and 22 per cent since March 2020, according to a September 2022 report from Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab.


Despite this, Charlebois says avian influenza will not impact dinners this Thanksgiving.


“Most of the turkeys that will be bought this week are already harvested,” he explained.


If farmers can contain the outbreaks, Charlebois said the industry will be able to bounce back quickly.


IMPACT OF BIRD FLU


Across the country, clusters of bird flu cases are popping up, most prominently in Alberta and Ontario, which have the highest concentration of the avian flu.


According to the Government of Canada, Ontario has two outbreak zones, one just north of London and another east of Ottawa. Large swaths of land around Quebec City are also under control, ensuring the movement of birds is minimum. As each farm reports cases, a 10-kilometre radius is automatically introduced asking nearby farmers to monitor livestock and watch for wind patterns. According to the government, one case will trigger the outbreak because of its contagious nature.


The majority of cases across the country are around Edmonton. There are also cases in southern Manitoba, around Winnipeg, and near Regina in Saskatchewan.



Avian flu affects all birds including pets and exotic species if they come in contact with infected fowl. Last month, a popular bird sanctuary in Owen Sound, Ont., euthanized 96 birds after the virus was detected.


Birds that didn’t die from the flu were humanely euthanized to stop the spread, the CFIA previously told CTV News Barrie. Six swans at the sanctuary were not euthanized because they are descendants of royal swans gifted by King George V in 1912 to the City of Owen Sound. The birds are in quarantine and are being monitored closely.


Before April 2022, it had been 15 years since avian flu was detected in Saskatchewan. Now, the province’s Ministry of Agriculture has ordered limits on the movement of birds until Oct. 21.


The Calgary Zoo took precautions by closing its Rainforest Aviary last week to protect its birds from potential infection.


Notenbomer says farmers and bird owners are in tune with their livestock and know immediately if one is sick. He says some signs include lack of energy or appetite, decreased egg production, swelling around the head, and coughing or gasping for air.


He says farmers need to take necessary precautions regarding the movement of animals in outbreak zones to minimize cases. They also need to keep an eye on wind patterns and dust from neighbouring farms which can spread the virus from manure.


Other tools to slow the spread include farmers changing their shoes, clothes and equipment while working in barns around livestock.

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