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Surge in B.C. bird flu in commercial flocks raises questions about Christmas turkey supply

‘The avian influenza epidemic has made it very challenging for turkey producers,’ says rep
Turkey might be in short supply this Christmas. (Special to Black Press Media)

With a rising number of commercial poultry flocks infected by the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in the Fraser Valley, many are wondering how it will impact the availability of their Christmas turkey.

The retail supply of turkeys in B.C. is estimated to be down by about 20 per cent.

While the chicken and egg producers of B.C. are not forecasting any shortages at this point, the turkey situation is “another story,” said Amanda Brittain, spokesperson for the B.C. Poultry Association.

“The avian influenza epidemic has made it very challenging for turkey producers and processors to meet the demand for Christmas,” Brittain said.

For example, Chilliwack had only one poultry farm infected as of Nov. 18.

That total jumped to nine commercial farms infected in Chilliwack as of Nov. 27, and another 47 across B.C., according to Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which lists the B.C. cities where this strain has been confirmed, or listed as “to be determined.” It doesn’t specify if the infected premises is producing eggs, chicken, or turkey.

Abbotsford has 18 infected premises listed.

“Everybody is concentrating on protecting the flocks that are still going,” Brittain said.

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However industry officials don’t want anyone thinking there is a food shortage.

“We certainly don’t want to panic anyone,” she said.

When Brittain herself was food shopping over the weekend near her home, she said she purposely looked to see if there were frozen turkeys in stock - and there were.

Christmas and Thanksgiving are the two holidays when the demand for both fresh and frozen turkey is at its highest.

But the growing issues with bird flu are not limited to farms, and not limited to turkeys, as evidenced by the outbreak among the wild bird population at Sardis Park in Chilliwack.

“Every species is being affected.”

Many people are asking what they can do to help impacted B.C. food producers and farmers.

“What they can do is make sure the eggs, chicken and turkey they are buying, are in fact from B.C. Local farmers will appreciate that,” Brittain said.

There is no evidence that eating cooked poultry or eggs could transmit HPAI to humans, according to the CFIA.

As the number of cases of avian influenza continues to rise in British Columbia, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food has scheduled two virtual information sessions for B.C. small-flock poultry owners.

The virtual sessions will focus on the avian influenza virus, how owners can protect their flocks and how to prepare for potential impacts if their birds become sick.

The info sessions led by B.C. government veterinary specialists will cover:

• improving flock or farm biosecurity to prevent disease outbreaks;

• recognizing the signs of avian influenza and how to report cases;

• how foreign animal disease regulations affect small-flock poultry;

• what to expect if a flock is positive for avian influenza; and

• resources available for non-commercial bird owners, including diagnostic services through the BC Animal Health Centre.

The sessions are free, but registration is mandatory. Both events will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The first session is geared to small-flock owners in Thompson-Cariboo and northern B.C. and will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. Register online for that session with Eventbrite

On Monday, Dec. 5, the second session will get underway for all B.C. small-flock owners. Register online for the second session also through Eventbrite.

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RELATED: Fact sheet for small flock owners

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