Ontario farmers are stepping up biosecurity measures as a fourth southern Ontario farm was placed under quarantine after avian flu was detected in a flock of poultry.
The “highly pathogenic” strain of H5N1 avian influenza is spreading globally among wild birds and has already been reported on commercial farms in Atlantic Canada and across the United States.
the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed cases of avian influenza on three Ontario farms: in Woolwich Township, part of Waterloo Region; Township of Zorra near London; and in Guelph/Eramosa near Guelph. The most recently reported case involves a flock of poultry in Chippewas Township of Nawash Unceded First Nation.
The CFIA placed all farms under strict quarantine, establishing movement controls and recommending higher biosecurity on neighboring farms.
Last week, the agency also confirmed bird flu in a wild red-tailed hawk in Waterloo Region, Ontario.
The provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says avian influenza is not a significant public health problem for healthy people who are not in regular contact with infected birds, and does not pose a threat to food safety when handled and cooked properly.
A herd health problem
The detection of avian flu has Ontario farmers like Ingrid DeVisser worried about their flocks and their livelihoods.
“We are extremely vigilant and watchful,” DeVisser, owner of a family turkey farm in Bruce County, told CBC News. “We normally use excellent biosecurity and we’ve taken it up a notch, if possible.”
DeVisser said the farm is already doing much of its business remotely and is now limiting visitors to essential services.
She also limits the number of people working in the barn and has adopted strict safety protocols, including sanitizing, wearing personal protective equipment and changing work clothes regularly.
“As farmers, our number one priority is keeping our birds safe and healthy,” DeVisser said. “That’s what we’re working on and that’s what we’re very careful about.”
“Detective work” needed
Shayan Sharif, professor and associate dean of research and graduate studies at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, said it was important to limit the spread of bird flu as much as possible.
“What is needed is significant detective work” on the part of the CFIA, Sharif said.
“It’s entirely possible that migratory birds are coming from various other places in Ontario and spreading the virus, and these three farms could be connected.”
Sharif said every effort should be made to also restrict the movement of people and the exchange of materials between infected farms.
It’s not just farms that are taking precautions. This week, the Toronto Zoo announced ‘out of an abundance of caution’ that it will be closing its bird aviaries in guest pavilions and that behind-the-scenes tours of feed preparation and bird housing will be temporarily suspended. . It also reinforces security measures for all staff.
‘Enjoy your Easter turkey’
Lisa Bishop-Spencer, who works with Chicken Farmers of Canada, said the most important message is that the general public need not worry about getting bird flu.
“You’d have to be in fairly intense contact with infected birds and in prolonged contact to, you know, risk getting bird flu. And it’s not in your food,” she said.
“Health Canada is confident that this is not a food safety or quality issue. It is a herd health issue. There is no health risk to the general population. .”
DeVisser agreed, saying, “I guess my message as a turkey farmer is, please keep enjoying your Easter turkey.”
DeVisser said that while it’s unfortunate that bird flu outbreaks occur during the COVID-19 pandemic, her experience during COVID-19 has left her better equipped to handle the situation, and she hopes others farmers will also be able to draw on this experience.
“We hope we can mitigate this outbreak and keep it as small as possible,” DeVisser said. “The message to everyone is: biosecurity, practice your biosecurity. Be as careful as you can be.”