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Bird Flu Surveillance Programme to Start in Canada

by 5m Editor
4 June 2008, at 1:35pm

Farmer poultry organizations support the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) surveillance programme for low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) but they do not think farmers get adequate compensation if flocks must be depopulated.

"If they order the flocks out, the compensation from our perspective is not adequate," says Bob Guy, general manager of the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission, according to a report in Better Farming Online News.

Chicken Farmers of Ontario agrees. "Adequate compensation is still a big issue that has not been addressed yet," chairman Bill Woods says, adding they do not expect the CFIA to find any cases of AI.

The agency will begin full-scale testing of 1,000 flocks across Canada starting in August. Flocks will be randomly selected based on geography and timing of slaughter. Included in the survey will be commercial meat turkeys and chickens, table egg layers and broiler breeders.

The testing is intended to help Canadian poultry exports comply with recent changes in European Union regulations for poultry exports that require such testing not only for products destined for its markets but also those which pass through it to other destinations. As well, international guidelines under the World Animal Health Association encourage countries to test for avian influenza (AI) annually.

Currently, Canadian producers export C$50 million worth of hatching eggs and day-old chicks plus C$185 million worth of processed products.

This is the first year that the CFIA will monitor for AI in domestic birds. The agency has worked with public health agencies and the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre to carry out AI surveillance in wild birds for a number of years.

Farmers will be notified a couple of months before the slaughter dates that they have been selected for the survey. "They have to register with the CFIA to get blood samples taken from their poultry," says Dr Christine Power, national manager of epidemiology and surveillance.

Dr Power stopped just short of saying participation in the programme is mandatory. A farmer who has been selected for testing has to participate "if they want to slaughter at that plant," she says, noting the farmer will be required to bring their test results to the packing plant. "It is really the packer that has the right to request it of the producer."

Dr Power says tests will focus on two strains of LPAI. Unlike highly pathogenic AI (HPAI), which decimates a flock, the low pathogenic kind is hard to spot. The virus runs through the flock like a flu or cold and then moves on. There are very few deaths. The birds might be a bit off feed and the farmer might notice they are not doing too well. But they would not be overly alarmed, she said.

The two strains being monitored - low pathogenic AI - H5 and H7 - have the potential to mutate into the highly pathogenic strain.

"We are interested in finding those flocks when they are actively infected so we can catch it before there is an opportunity for it to mutate," she says.

If bloods tests show signs of past exposure, the CFIA will investigate to see if the infection is active. If the virus is absent, the birds are cleared for slaughter. There are no human or animal health and safety concerns. If an active infection is found, the CFIA will depopulate the flock to eliminate any potential "for that virus to mutate," she says. Adjacent flocks on the farm will also be tested and could be ordered destroyed.

However, farms surrounding one where an active infection is found would not be affected. "Because the low pathogenic avian influenza is not as much of a risk as the high pathogenic form, we do not follow the same kind of intensive procedures," Dr Power says.

The on-farm survey is expected to be conducted annually.

5m Editor