FROM THE EDITOR: February 2006
Chicken and flu have shared a long history
By Kristy Nudds
Chicken and flu have shared a long history. In fact, soup made from
the bird has become synonymous with the word flu, being both a ‘cure’
and comfort to those unlucky enough to be afflicted.
Chicken and flu have shared a long history. In fact, soup made from the bird has become synonymous with the word flu, being both a ‘cure’ and comfort to those unlucky enough to be afflicted.
But in recent months, an irony has evolved. The words ‘chicken’ and ‘flu’ have become symbolic of international fear and impending doom. Hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear or read about avian flu, and how society as we know it will be crippled if human-to-human transmission of the virus occurs.
Will chicken soup relinquish its heavyweight title as the cure for what ails us? Judging from public response at a recent forum on avian flu held in Guelph, Ontario, that doesn’t appear likely to happen anytime soon.
Recognizing that the relationship between food production and animal disease can be a confusing topic for consumers, the Royal Society of Canada partnered with the University of Guelph to host a public forum on avian influenza (AI) and BSE. The objective was to provide citizens, experts and policy-makers with an opportunity to critically examine, discuss, and clarify the many implications that animal diseases like avian flu have on Canadian society.
The forum hit its target in one crucial area: clarifying the myths and confusion surrounding avian flu, and the importance of keeping media reports in perspective.
Six panelists answered questions from a standing-room-only audience, comprised primarily of non-farming citizens, students and academia. I must admit I really had no idea of what to expect from the audience when the forum began.
Would they bash Canada’s poultry industry, or show support? Does fear exist among consumers with respect to poultry products, and are they afraid of our livestock systems because of food safety concerns?
I’m happy to report that panelists were thoughtful, transparent and best of all, candid. Some told the audience that Canada’s poultry industry, like other livestock industries, is responsive to such outbreaks and has adapted production practices to ensure its products are safe.
I was greatly impressed by panelist Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinarian for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). He didn’t sugar-coat the issues, and went to bat for Canadian agricultural producers.
“I believe Canadian poultry producers do care about the product they produce,” said Evans in response to an audience question about what role the food producer plays in risk management.
He said that the Canadian poultry industry has taken ownership of the situation, as “regulation isn’t enough” and producers continually adapt their practices to ensure both the safety of their animals and the products they produce.
What was missing during the forum, however, was public inquiry into how avian flu will affect Canadian poultry producers.
Unfortunately, such concerns are rarely at the forefront of food safety issues. The reality is Canadian livestock producers are forced to take ownership of a crisis in order to survive economically – because when the crisis is over and food is still on the table, not many consumers stress about how farmers will cope with the fallout.
We have to continue ensuring that poultry farms are biosecure, and I believe that producers have done a great job and will continue to do so.
And national media is taking notice. How Canada’s poultry industry is preparing for avian flu, should it arrive here, warranted a full-page article in the January 10th edition of the Globe and Mail. It’s the first national article I’ve seen that actually concerns itself with how poultry farmers will be impacted.
The article, written by food reporter Andy Hoffman, didn’t concentrate on the ‘looming’ flu pandemic, but rather how Canada’s poultry producers have been forced to take “extraordinary measures to protect their birds and their industry from an outbreak,” and how this is being accomplished by both government and industry. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out.
I leave you with some food for thought. As stated by Dr. Evans during the forum, “We have to stay vigilant. The trust of the public has to be earned every day.”