Nearly six months after avian influenza was last detected in the Lower Mainland, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has declared British Columbia “free of notifiable avian influenza,” a move that has prompted the United States to remove restrictions on poultry from the province.
It’s hoped other countries will follow suit, but an outbreak of the same H5N2 strain of avian influenza in Ontario in April means nations that restrict imports from all of Canada will likely keep barriers in place until the entire nation is declared free of bird flu.
B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said he is “confident international trade will resume as normal with our other trading partners in the near future.”
The outbreak of a highly pathogenic version of the virus last November and December resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 turkeys and chickens at 13 farms in Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Those farms were cleaned and placed in quarantines, all of which had been lifted by the middle of March.
Since then, the H5N2 avian influenza has swept through the United States and caused the death of millions of birds.
The declaration is the last official step needed to return the Valley’s poultry industry to a normal state after the largest avian influenza outbreak to hit the region in more than a decade.
B.C. Poultry Assoication president Ray Nickel said the U.S. moved to open its borders to B.C. poultry is a positive. He said it will primarily help processors, who depend on foreign markets to purchase parts of B.C. birds that are less popular at home. That increased demand allows B.C. farmers – who operate within a supply-management model that guarantees a certain price per bird – to raise more chickens.
While officials are still reviewing the response to the avian flu discovery, Letnick said significant progress had been made since 2004, when millions of birds were culled after another avian influenza outbreak.
Letnick said federal, provincial and industry officials were “very well co-ordinated right from the get-go,” a factor that helped stop the virus in its tracks.
In a separate move, the legislature has passed a bill that will allow poultry groups to mandate members to purchase avian influenza insurance. It’s hoped that will protect farmers from the financial cost of dealing with an outbreak.
The insurance plan had been years in the making and was nearly complete when avian flu was discovered last year.