Avian flu outbreak a 'challenge' to growing food exports: Minister
A Canada Food Inspection Agency vehicle sits outside of a turkey farm on Highway 2, one of eight in Oxford County in a containment zone following a bird flu outbreak, west of Woodstock, Ontario on Wednesday April 8, 2015. The first of the farms where H5 avian influenza was detected was placed under quarantine earlier this week. CRAIG GLOVER/QMI Agency
LONDON, Ont. -- An avian flu outbreak that has already prompted poultry trade restrictions by Japan and Taiwan is "one of the challenges" Ontario must face as it looks to expand its food exports, says International Trade Minister Michael Chan.
Ontario food is internationally known for its safety and quality, Chan said Wednesday, days before co-leading an agri-food trade mission to China.
This setback -- more than 10,000 birds killed at two Woodstock, Ont., farms and six nearby farms quarantined because of H5 avian flu -- strengthens Ontario's resolve to be "aggressive, pro-active, be out there" in promoting its food exports, Chan said.
Ontario exported $204 million worth of poultry in 2014, more than half of it to the U.S. China is not an importer of Canadian poultry.
But China is also among dozens of countries that have banned or restricted its import of American poultry after recent cases of avian flu in the U.S.
Canada, Mexico and the European Union also have similar restrictions on importing some U.S. poultry.
The China trade mission is a broader venture, involving 20 agri-food groups as diverse as ice-wine makers, organic tomato-canners and beef farmers.
It's key for Ontario to diversify products and places for export, Chan said.
And when issues such as bird flu arise, "We should not roll over and play dead," Chan said, adding that Asian markets value Ontario products because the brand is safe, clean and secure.
Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal emphasized Wednesday that Ontario's poultry is safe to eat and the province is working "in lockstep" with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to control the spread of the virus.
"We have robust food and safety animal systems in place and our producers are vigilant in maintaining strict biosecurity protocols," Leal said.
The trade mission takes place April 16-25.
Beef Farmers of Ontario president Bob Gordanier is a delegate on the trade mission hoping to build relationships that can lead to Ontario beef exports to China.
"As wealth and income grows in China there will be a greater demand for high-quality proteins" such as beef, Gordanier said.