Food industry adjusting to large outbreak of avian flu in Canada, around the world
About 166,000 birds in Alberta euthanized or killed by the avian flu strain H5N1 in Canada since late 2021
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says the food industry is making adjustments to maintain supplies of poultry and eggs in the face of a large outbreak of avian flu in Canada and around the world.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says this has been an unprecedented year globally for avian flu, or bird flu as it's also known.
Outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian flu strain H5N1 have been detected in Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia since late 2021.
So far, about 260,000 birds have been euthanized or killed by the virus in Canada. Approximately 166,000 of those were in Alberta and 84,000 were in Ontario.
While most forms of avian flu are mild, H5N1 can cause serious disease and death in birds.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says there are lots of factors driving up the cost of food so it's difficult to find a direct link between high costs for eggs and poultry and the virus, but the agency is watching closely.
"Poultry and egg production in Canada are supply managed and there are mechanisms in place that modelling boards can deploy to give them the flexibility to adjust to the kind of disruption that we are talking right now," said Donald Boucher, director general of sector development with Agri-Food Canada.
"We know that some of those measures have been implemented as well, in the context of the current (avian influenza) outbreak."
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency believes migratory birds are responsible for Canada's 25 outbreaks, and expects there will be more cases as flocks continue to fly north for the summer. So far, there has been no evidence of farm-to-farm transmission.
"I think this is, in more recent memory, one of the larger number of cases in multiple provinces of avian influenza and the first time that we've had H5N1," said Dr. Mary Jane Ireland, chief veterinary officer.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has set up control zones in areas with active outbreaks in Ontario and Alberta to quarantine infected animals and limit the movement of goods and livestock in and out of the affected areas.
It's a stressful experience for farmers and small flock owners, Ireland said, particularly because of the impact on their livelihoods.
She said the agency is preparing to respond to further detections in anticipation of further outbreaks.
No human cases have been detected in Canada, and avian influenza is not a significant public health concern for healthy people who are not in regular contact with infected birds.
Nate Horner, Alberta's agriculture minister, said the affected producers are having a difficult time.
"This case is an important reminder of the importance of strict biosecurity measures and early detection," Horner said in a news release Tuesday.
"HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] is a reportable disease, so if you suspect or confirm a case in your flock, you are required to report it to the CFIA or the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian."
He added that there is no risk to food safety in the province.