After an AI disease outbreak

The Ontario poultry industry is positioning itself to better recover from disease outbreaks.
Treena Hein
February 15, 2017
By Treena Hein
The permit application process is being streamlined in two ways, but the first is to make sure industry is able to qualify for application approval by reviewing biosecurity plans.
The permit application process is being streamlined in two ways, but the first is to make sure industry is able to qualify for application approval by reviewing biosecurity plans.
In several parts of Ontario, poultry production is quite concentrated, which doesn’t bode well for preventing spread of disease in the event of an outbreak. Because of that, Tom Baker, project manager and incident commander at the Feather Board Command Centre (FBCC,) is co-ordinating a special project.
Along with the efforts of the four Ontario feather boards (Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Egg Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission and Turkey Farmers of Ontario), as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and other stakeholder organizations, the initiative aims to strengthen recovery efforts related to post-outbreak situations, with partial funding for the project provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

 “In some instances, there are more than 60 poultry farms within a 10-kilometre zone, which involves a large amount of service provider movement,” notes Baker. “When farms are quarantined in the face of an avian influenza (AI) situation, the movement of all product and things is suspended. Establishing the conditions for restoring the movement to and from farms has to take place effectively and immediately. It’s not only about business disruption and potential profit losses, but about food safety and security, ensuring that Ontarians have a steady supply of high-quality food at the prices they are accustomed to paying.”

One component of the project, relating to movement after declaration of an AI outbreak, has the goal of streamlining the application process for ‘movement permits’ so that movement can begin again as soon as safely possible.

But let’s back up. A potential outbreak situation begins when a farmer notes a serious health issue on the farm and calls a veterinarian, who may in turn alert the CFIA. Samples are taken for laboratory analysis and the producer self-quarantines. The related poultry board and FBCC are alerted (with the FBCC, started in 2011, already having educated all producers and run simulations on this chain of events). If the mortality rate is high and infectious disease is suspected, FBCC releases a ‘heightened biosecurity advisory’ with a zone map and directions to reinforce biosecurity protocols. If an infectious disease diagnosis is confirmed, the CFIA declares the farm officially infected and quarantines all poultry premises within a defined control zone, often within a 10-km radius of the farm.

The CFIA is given data as soon as possible on type of farms, farm sizes, schedules relating to chick delivery or bird pick-up and so on (the Chicken Farmers of Ontario already has an information-sharing agreement with the CFIA, and other boards are pursuing similar agreements). In the control zone, there is no movement of birds, products, manure, equipment or anything else related to the industry without government approval. The CFIA conducts a great deal of further testing and works with the FBCC to determine the health of relevant flocks and the extent of the disease outbreak.

“When sufficient surveillance has occurred, the CFIA will begin accepting applications for movement permits, but it could be a week or more until that occurs,” Baker explains. “It takes time to get a complete picture of where the disease exists and quite often a disease can pop up 20 km away from the first farm. Each situation is potentially different. But once the CFIA is ready to accept applications for movement permits, we want to be sure that the application process is as smooth as possible and that industry receives permits as soon as it can.”

The application process is being streamlined in two ways: making sure industry is able to qualify for application approval and working with CFIA to achieve a smoother process for approval.

“On the first point, we are doing a review of the biosecurity plans of producers and service providers to identify best practices and work to change any non-alignments,” says Baker. “Basically, we want everyone on the same biosecurity ‘page,’ and for everyone to know what is expected by other parties.”

On the second point, CFIA is already working at streamlining the permitting process, and in addition, the FBCC is offering the agency insight into things like movement priorities (which products should move first on or off farms) and so on.

The second component of the project looks at how farmers might choose to deal with losses incurred by an outbreak. The economic impact of an outbreak can be huge, from placing birds outside of the quarantine zone and veterinary fees, to disinfection and additional biosecurity measures. Baker notes that the CFIA only covers about 25 per cent of losses for infected farms and none for quarantined farms.

He suggests that in the past, the insurance industry may have inadvertently overestimated the risk of devastating economic losses from an AI outbreak, as a result of a lack of ‘real world’ data. Baker says different insurance products are being contemplated in provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec and that in Ontario, there was some examination of the issue about ten years ago.

“Now, we have a much-improved industry early response system, stronger industry biosecurity protocols and a more risk-based approach from CFIA, so a lot has changed,” he explains. “Measuring the risk associated with infectious disease and its control is complex. Consequently, there are challenges and obstacles with determining appropriate premiums for an insurance policy. That’s the focus of the project, to gather information and analyze data so that appropriately-designed insurance instruments can be developed.”

Data including the production type, location and number of birds on a farm at any particular time is collected. This information plus a wide range of biological, disease contact and control parameters drives an ‘animal disease spread model,’ generating thousands of iterations of hundreds of scenarios. The outputs of this exercise will quantify the risk of AI exposure for Ontario poultry farmers. Modelling will also be conducted to determine the individual farmer’s actual losses for various bird types depopulated at any point in the production cycle.

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