Eight farms have been quarantined and Asian trade restrictions slapped on Ontario poultry and poultry products in the widening fallout of an outbreak of bird flu at a commercial turkey farm west of here.
The unidentified farm where H5 avian infl-enza was first detected was put under quarantine three days ago, along with a neighbouring farm.
But Tuesday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency added six more farms in a fivekm radius to the containment zone, an extra precaution to keep the disease — its deadliest strain can wipe out entire flocks in only 48 hours — from spreading in the nation’s largest turkey-producing province.
"That’s out of an abundance of caution in terms of containment (of the flu)," Paul Mayers, the federal agency’s vice-president of policy and programs, said at a news conference.
About 7,500 birds have died at the first farm, with another 4,500 in the infected barn to be killed Wednesday.
Whether the bird flu detected is the most lethal strain that has ravaged flocks elsewhere — the deaths so far suggest that — won’t be known for several days, until test results come back, the agency says.
There’s evidence to suggest the infection could have come from U.S. flocks in Minnesota, the largest American turkey producer, but the outbreak’s source hasn’t been con-firmed, Mayers said.
While authorities say there’s no human health risk for Southwestern Ontarians to worry about, and only a small risk to workers exposed to infected birds, the potential fallout for Ontario’s poultry industry — it produces more than 75 million kilograms of turkey alone each year — looms large.
Japan and Taiwan said Tuesday they’ll restrict imports of Ontario poultry and poultry products, joining 10 other countries still enforcing restrictions on Canadian products after avian flu was detected in B.C. last year.
Most Ontario turkeys are sold for domestic consumption, but nearly 20% of the production is exported, latest provincial figures for 2013 show.
Bird flu outbreaks can be devastating for a poultry farmer, said Ingrid DeVisser, a Bruce County producer and director of the Turkey Farmers of Ontario.
"As farmers, our first priority is to protect the health and wellbeing of the birds on our farm," she said.
Western Ontario, one of the nation’s richest farm belts, is home to major commercial turkey farms and processors and accounts for roughly 40% of Ontario’s total farms producing poultry and eggs, according to the 2011 farm census.
The CFIA says it’s watching for symptoms of avian flu at farms near the Woodstock-area operation where it was detected.
In Minnesota, seven flocks have been found infected by H5N2 flu in the past month, with more than 150,000 birds culled in the past week alone.
The CFIA has banned poultry and eggs from seven U.S. states including Minnesota because of avian flu, restrictions expanded this week to include Montana and South Dakota after the disease was detected there.
It’s possible the Southwestern Ontario outbreak could have been transferred from Minnesota, Mayers said.
"We recognize with migratory birds there may be potential" to transmit the disease, he said.
That’s why the CFIA is telling poultry farmers to be on high alert for symptoms and to increase their biosecurity measures.
Quarantined farms can expect extreme sanitation measures and tight controls on movement of workers, equipment and poultry, said Shayan Sharif, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College who’s working to develop avian flu vaccines.
Farmers whose flocks the CFIA orders culled are compensated.
"But then there comes the process of cleaning and disinfecting, which is very intensive and costly," DeVisser said.
"That cost will definitely be borne by the farmer.
"Then, of course, there’s downtime. You need to be testing avian influenza negative for 21 days before the quarantine can be lifted off that farm."
DeVisser said there’s not much the industry can do but wait for the test results.
In the meantime, she hopes Ontarians won’t curb their poultry- eating habits.
Poultry infected by the avian flu is still safe to eat when handled and cooked properly.
"Consumers can be assured that they can continue to eat poultry and eggs," DeVisser said.
Oxford County’s acting medical officer of health emphasized the human health risk is minimal.
"There is a very, very small risk for workers involved with infected birds," Dr. Douglas Neal said.
"Beyond that, the risk of transmission from one of those workers to another person is extremely rare and has never occurred in the United States or Canada."
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ABOUT AVIAN FLU
- Commonly known as bird flu.
- Most lethal strain can wipe out entire flocks in 48 hours.
- Detected on Woodstock-area turkey farm.
- Farm quarantined, along with seven others nearby.
- U.S. outbreaks have led to Canadian import bans from seven states.
- H5N2 strain nearly identical to viruses isolated in migratory ducks.