Canadian Poultry Magazine

Managing Disease-Free Areas

By PIC   

Features New Technology Production

Managing Disease-Free Areas

Avian influenza outbreaks, including the 2004 outbreak in British Columbia, have directly cost the North American poultry industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

University of Montreal researchers explore the concept of zoning disease-free regions to lessen the impact on industry business
during outbreaks

 To assist the Ontario poultry industry with a plan of action in the event of an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, researchers are examining the feasibility of zoning the commercial poultry industry in Ontario.



Avian influenza outbreaks, including the 2004 outbreak in British Columbia, have directly cost the North American poultry industry hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost of outbreaks in Asia is in the billions. When an outbreak occurs, control measures involve following the trail of the microbe and its spread. Preparation for an outbreak involves ensuring the response will be fast and well co-ordinated. 
But what about the disease-free areas? In response to major animal epidemics around the world, the concept of compartmentalizing or zoning disease-free areas has emerged. In the Netherlands, zoning was used with great success during the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic.  

In order to assist the Ontario poultry industry with a plan of action in the event of an outbreak of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza, Drs. Heather Labelle and Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt and their research team at the University of Montreal have been examining the feasibility of zoning the commercial poultry industry in Ontario.
The overall goal of zone creation is to identify separation borders that minimize all deficits in production within each zone, as a production deficit could hinder a zone’s ability to function. Based on needs stated by the poultry industry, the formation of an independently functioning zone would require sufficient production capacity from four allied industries: egg grading stations, feed mills, hatcheries, and slaughter plants. 

The database used in the analysis consisted of the total production capacity per Statistics Canada census subdivision, for each type of poultry production, including the capacity of allied industries.  Eight census divisions were deemed critical to any zoning attempts. They are: Bruce, Grey, Simcoe, Dufferin, Toronto, York, Durham, and Kawartha Lakes. The researchers analyzed over 40 different zoning scenarios, always using these eight census divisions to redefine the border between the zones. Of these numerous scenarios, four were retained because they best minimized the deficits in production for the whole industry. None included Quebec.

Although the proposed zone borders do not eliminate all deficits for all aspects of the industry, they provide the necessary information for discussion within industry about the feasibility of this approach in controlling avian Influenza. To read more, please visit

Featured Researchers


Dr. Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, whose research interests include poultry health and public health issues in Veterinary Medicine, is a full professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Montreal. Dr. Vaillancourt received his doctor of veterinary medicine and his master’s of science in clinical sciences from the University of Montreal, and his doctor of philosphy in veterinary medicine from the University of Minnesota. Prior to returning to the University of Montreal, he taught at the University of Guelph Veterinary College in Ontario, at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and was a visiting professor at the National University of Mexico in Mexico City. In 1998, he received the Outstanding Extension Service Award, and in 2000, he was inducted into the Academy of Outstanding Faculty Engaged in Extension at North Carolina State University. In 2004, Dr. Vaillancourt received The Lamplighter Award from the US Poultry & Egg Association for his contributions to the American poultry industry on infectious disease research and on biosecurity. In addition to his position at the University of Montreal, Dr Vaillancourt has served as co-ordinator of the Quebec team for the design and implementation of emergency measures for the poultry industry in this province, and has been the auditor-in-chief of avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease simulations in Ontario and New Brunswick. He is currently director of the University of Montreal Poultry Research Centre.


Dr. Heather Labelle is currently completing a master’s degree in epidemiology at the Université de Montréal with Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt as her research advisor. Her research project examines the feasibility of zoning the commercial poultry industry of Ontario as a method of minimizing the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza during an outbreak. Dr. Labelle is a native of Chicago, and received her degree of doctor of veterinary medicine, as well as a bachelor of science, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before arriving in Canada she worked as an associate veterinarian in a small animal practice in the Chicagoland area. Her research interests include infectious diseases of major importance in animal production, with a focus on those diseases with a zoonotic potential, and the agricultural and public health policy issues surrounding their control.

Research Hastens Into Practice
Turning research results into practice usually takes a long time – anything up to 15 years is not unusual when we look at the adoption of new technologies on-farm.

However, occasionally we see exceptions and this is the case with the work featured in this edition of Canadian Poultry magazine from Dr. Yoshiri Mine at the University of Guelph. In fact almost before the ink on the final report had dried the technology that he developed for including a type of sugar (ß-1-4 Mannobiose), in the diet of broiler chicks was already being used by one of the largest poultry processing
companies in Canada in Quebec. By reducing the susceptibility to Salmonella and Campylobacter, this technology not only provides a cost-effective tool in the fight against foodborne illness, it also moves us closer towards finding useful alternatives to antibiotics. 

Your Research Dollars at Work
This step forward comes as a direct result of the research you pay for, working for you.

Congratulations to Dr. Mine for working diligently to produce this result but thanks must also go to you, the producers who through your collective investment in research such as this help bulletproof our industry against the current and future challenges it faces.
Maintaining industry funding for research was a theme that was picked up in a talk given by Dr. Helen Ann Hudson at the recently held poultry conference in Nova Scotia. The role of research in ensuring the sustainability of industry through well-targeted research was articulated by Dr. Hudson. 

She highlighted the plethora of new and existing challenges our industry faces, including everything from the usual suspects (disease and productivity challenges) to marketing, welfare, and the new threat of losing genetic diversity in our commercial breeds. On the subject of diminishing genetics, old researchers do eventually fall off the perch and need to be replaced so Dr. Hudson also made the point that we are currently faced with the very real threat of losing the basic human resource capacity to undertake work such as Dr. Mines.
Because times have changed and the University sector can no longer afford to support senior research scientists devoted to specific industries, this issue is central to discussions currently underway between the PIC and the University of Guelph. It’s up to us to make some decisions about where we invest to get the best bang for our limited buck and “people” is one area we cannot afford not to invest in, as it’s very expensive. So at a time when all governments are looking to develop new “smart” industries for the future prosperity of Canada wouldn’t it seem logical that underpinning the success of existing “smart” agricultural industries such as poultry and supporting the brightest and best to work in our industry and keep us at the leading edge would be a “smart” investment?  
On the subject of diseases and the smart people working in that area, planning is well underway for our May research day for 2009. This year our focus is on food safety, and at the Guelph Arboretum on May 12 you can hear from a group of national researchers and one international, who are working to find solutions to the constant threat to our industry of foodborne pathogens.

The half-day workshop entitled, “What’s eating us in what we eat?” features a great lineup of industry supported researchers and the day will be well worth a look. See the flier in this month’s polybag for more details and don’t forget to come and say g’day to us at the London Poultry Show.

Modulation of gut immunity in chickens by beta-1,4 mannobiose
Dr. Yoshinori Mine, University of Guelph

Poultry are a major reservoir of the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni), and various strains of salmonella that colonize the mucus lining the chicken’s intestine. Poultry products and eggs have been shown to be important vehicles of human infection. Therefore, determining methods of reducing intestinal carriage of these pathogens can ultimately improve food safety. Antibiotics have traditionally been used to reduce intestinal carriage, but this has led to concerns about potential development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Therefore, alternative approaches are being investigated.
In previous PIC funded studies, Dr. Yoshinori Mine and his research team at the University of Guelph found that including a type of sugar (ß-1-4 Mannobiose, MNB) in the diet of broiler chicks reduced susceptibility to Salmonella Enteritidis and C. jejuni colonization during infection.

These discoveries led to curiosity about exactly how MNB modulates gut immunity. In the current study, Dr. Mine used DNA microarry technology, which allows scientists to analyze many gene expressions. Mine wanted to determine which genetic markers are associated physiological responses of the intestine to MNB. 

Their findings? Among the genes for which expression was affected by MNB administration, the researchers found that MNB stimulates genes associated with antibody production (especially IgA) in the mucosal surface of chicken gut, thereby helping to prevent bacterial invasion. In addition, they found a stronger response for all genes responsible for defence against organisms and concluded that MNB can enhance gut immunity and prevent colonization of C. jejuni and salmonella.
These findings strongly suggest that one of the major physiological and immunological effects of dietary MNB administration is immunomodulation in the small intestine of chickens. This research has identified an important and commercially applicable method to combat bacterial invasion in the chicken gut, thereby improving food safety of poultry meat and eggs. To read more, please visit the website at

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