Bruce Cran of the Consumers Association of Canada said the federal government has done ''an incompetent job'' informing Canadians that irradiation is safe and he worries that a lack of action could lead to a deadly outbreak.
''They need to promote an understanding so Canadians can make an informed choice, and they're not doing that for whatever reason,'' Cran said. ''This is not only a safe practice, it's one that many of us would like to be able to use.''
Earlier this year, the federal government approved the sale of ground beef treated with radiant energy similar to X-rays to reduce the risk of illnesses caused by E. coli and salmonella. The products must be labelled to include an international symbol on packaging – usually a green plant inside a circle.
The U.S. has allowed meat to be treated for years, but that country's Food and Drug Administration has noted that consumers' acceptance has been slowed by confusion over how irradiation works and what it does. It notes some people believe it makes food radioactive.
''Our members would absolutely support it,'' said Robin Horel, president of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council.
''But we haven't pushed hard because ... the companies that produce chicken and turkey are concerned about what the consumer response would be.''
Anna Madison, a spokeswoman for Health Canada, said in an email the federal government would not promote irradiation since it does not engage in promotional activities.
The federal department last examined irradiation for poultry in the early 2000s, but it did not amend regulations to allow it because of concerns from some stakeholders.
Karen Graham, who chaired a panel of Canadian dietitians in the 1980s that considered the issue, said irradiated foods lose vitamin B and fats such as healthy omega-3 are broken down. It can also kill healthy bacteria.
Critics also claim irradiation produces toxins, such as benzene, and changes the taste of meat.
''There aren't consumers with placards saying give us irradiation. This is very much industry driven,'' Graham said in an interview from Kelowna, B.C.
Rick Holley, professor emeritus of food microbiology and food safety at University of Manitoba, said irradiation is safe and is even more important for chicken than for ground beef. Chicken causes more illness in Canada, he said.
Holley said salmonella is naturally present on a lot of chicken and the gastro-intestinal bacteria campylobactor is present on all of it, regardless of whether a bird is free-range or factory.
''Both of these organisms occasionally kill, but because they make more people ill who recover, then the emphasis is not placed on them to the same extent as E. coli O157 in hamburger,'' said Holley, who suggested that irradiating chicken could cut food-related illness in Canada by 25 per cent.
''The political will is certainly there, but it will only move forward in this regard when consumers are made aware of the extent of the problem and the fact that irradiation is such a suitable solution.''
The Health Canada review noted an unpleasant odour with doses of irradiation higher than the one that was being considered for fresh chicken, but the smell was more likely to be noticed by experienced judges than average consumers. It also said the smell disappeared after a few days or after cooking.
Monique Lacroix, a researcher at the Canadian Irradiation Centre and at INRS-Institute Armand Frappier in Laval, Que., said in an interview last year that irradiation done at the low levels proposed by the meat industry, doesn't increase benzene or free radicals in an amount to be of concern. She noted that barbecuing meat produces billions of free radicals.
Graham, however, said irradiation is one more added process that negatively affects food.
''You still have storage. You still have refrigeration. You still have freezing. You still have all those things which are going to cause some nutrient loss – and then you're adding irradiation on top of it which also is going to create some losses.''
FBCC has been alerted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) that birds from a small backyard “dual purpose” chicken flock in Dufferin County have tested positive for Infectious Laryngotracheitis.
The lab submission came through the Small Flock Surveillance Project administered by OMAFRA and the University of Guelph. OMAFRA staff are providing advice to the small flock owner and his veterinarian to ensure proper biosecurity and disease control measures are implemented.
This advisory status is anticipated to last until late May. READ MORE
In early March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) announced that a commercial flock of breeder chickens in Tennessee tested positive for highly pathogenic avian flu, or HPAI. Since then, USDA-APHIS has revealed another case of the same H7N9 virus at a second Tennessee farm, and Alabama agriculture officials announced an outbreak of suspected low-pathogenic avian flu affecting three premises in that state.
In addition, low-pathogenic avian flu was reported in a Wisconsin turkey flock and a Kentucky broiler breeder flock, and routine surveillance has found the presence of low-pathogenic avian flu in wild waterfowl in various states.
The pathogenicity of a virus refers to its ability to produce disease. Some H5 or H7 viruses have the capacity to mutate into "high-path" strains under certain conditions, according to Eva Wallner-Pendleton, senior research associate and avian pathologist in Penn State's Animal Diagnostic Laboratory.
"Low-path AI viruses can go undiagnosed because they often produce very little illness or death," she said. "The time needed to mutate into high-path viruses varies considerably from weeks to months, or it can occur rapidly."
Infection with North American strains of low-pathogenic avian flu is a common natural occurrence in wild birds, such as ducks and geese, which usually show few or no symptoms, Wallner-Pendleton explained.
"But if these strains get into a poultry flock, they can mutate and become highly pathogenic, causing significant mortality," she said.
She noted that poultry flocks infected with low-pathogenic H5 or H7 avian flu subtypes often will be culled to stop the spread of the virus and to keep it from becoming more virulent.
The recent Tennessee outbreak occurred within the Mississippi flyway, which is one of four paths taken by wild birds when migrating in the spring and fall in North America. During the 2014-15 outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian flu that led to the loss of about 50 million turkeys and laying hens in the Midwest, the Atlantic flyway – which connects with the Mississippi flyway – was the only migratory flyway not affected.
"In Tennessee, one of the affected poultry houses was near a pond, which may have attracted wild waterfowl," Wallner-Pendleton said. "In cool, wet weather, bird droppings can contain viable virus for a long time, and the pathogen can be spread to poultry flocks on people's shoes or on vehicle tires and so forth. So a key biosecurity recommendation is to prevent any contact between waterfowl and domestic poultry and to take steps to ensure that the virus is not introduced into a poultry house on clothing or equipment."
Gregory Martin, a Penn State Extension poultry science educator based in Lancaster County, pointed out that state and federal agriculture officials are strongly urge producers to develop an HPAI flock plan and augment it with a comprehensive biosecurity plan.
"These plans may be required for producers to receive indemnification for any losses resulting from an avian flu outbreak," he said.
To assist producers in developing a biosecurity plan, Martin said, Penn State poultry scientists and veterinarians have developed a plan template that can be customized for various types of flocks.
This is the first confirmation of avian influenza in domestic poultry in Georgia.
The virus was identified during routine pre-sale screening for the commercial facility and was confirmed as H7 avian influenza by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Ia. As a precaution, the affected flock has been depopulated. Officials are testing and monitoring other flocks within the surveillance area and no other flocks have tested positive or experienced any clinical signs.
The announcement follows similar confirmations from Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee in recent weeks. The Georgia case is considered a presumptive low pathogenic avian influenza because the flock did not show any signs of illness. While LPAI is different from HPAI, control measures are under way as a precautionary measure. Wild birds are the source of the virus. Avian influenza virus strains often occur naturally in wild birds, and can infect wild migratory birds without causing illness.
“Poultry is the top sector of our number one industry, agriculture, and we are committed to protecting the livelihoods of the many farm families that are dependent on it,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black. “In order to successfully do that, it is imperative that we continue our efforts of extensive biosecurity.”
The official order prohibiting poultry exhibitions and the assembling of poultry to be sold issued by the state veterinarian’s office on March 16, 2017, remains in effect. The order prohibits all poultry exhibitions, sales at regional and county fairs, festivals, swap meets, live bird markets, flea markets, and auctions. The order also prohibits the concentration, collection or assembly of poultry of all types, including wild waterfowl from one or more premises for purposes of sale. Shipments of eggs or baby chicks from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP), Avian Influenza Clean, approved facilities are not affected by this order.
This H7N9 strain is of North American wild bird lineage and is the same strain of avian influenza that was previously confirmed in Tennessee. It is not the same as the China H7N9 virus that has impacted poultry and infected humans in Asia. The flock of 55,000 chickens is located in the Mississippi flyway, within three kilometers of the first Tennessee case.
Samples from the affected flock, which displayed signs of illness and experienced increased mortality, were tested at Tennessee’s Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory and confirmed at the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa.
The USDA is working with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture on the joint incident response. State officials quarantined the affected premises, and depopulation has begun. Federal and state partners will conduct surveillance and testing of commercial and backyard poultry within a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) radius of the site.
The USDA will be informing the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as well as international trading partners of this finding.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is working directly with poultry workers at the affected facilities to ensure that they are taking the proper precautions to prevent illness and contain disease spread.
“The health of poultry is critically important at this time,” said Dr. Frazier. “With three investigations of avian influenza in north Alabama on three separate premises we feel that the stop movement order is the most effective way to implement biosecurity for all poultry in our state.”
The first two investigations were on two separate premises in north Alabama. One flock of chickens at a commercial breeder operation located in Lauderdale County, Ala. was found to be suspect for avian influenza. No significant mortality in the flock was reported. The other premise was a backyard flock in Madison County, Ala. Samples from both premises have been sent to the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa, and are being tested to determine presence of the virus.
The most recent investigation began following routine surveillance while executing Alabama’s HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan. USDA poultry technicians collected samples at the TaCo-Bet Trade Day flea market in Scottsboro located in Jackson County, Ala. on March 12. Samples collected were suspect and those samples are on the way to the USDA lab in Ames, Iowa.
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) on a joint incident response.
This suspected strain of avian influenza does not pose a risk to the food supply. No affected poultry entered the food chain. The risk of human infection with avian influenza during poultry outbreaks is very low.
“Following the 2015 avian influenza outbreak in the Midwest, planning, preparation, and extensive biosecurity efforts were escalated in Alabama. Industry, growers, state and federal agencies and other stakeholders have worked hard to maintain a level of readiness,” said Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan. “Our staff is committed to staying actively involved in the avian influenza situation until any threats are addressed.”
This chicken breeding operation is located in Giles County, Tenn. The company that operates it is different from the one associated with the recent detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Lincoln County. At this time, officials do not believe one premise sickened the other.
On March 6, routine screening tests at the Giles County premises indicated the presence of avian influenza in the flock. State and federal laboratories confirmed the existence of H7N9 LPAI in tested samples.
“This is why we test and monitor for avian influenza,” State Veterinarian Dr. Charles Hatcher said. “When routine testing showed a problem at this facility, the operators immediately took action and notified our lab. That fast response is critical to stopping the spread of this virus.”
As a precaution, the affected flock was depopulated and has been buried. The premises is under quarantine. Domesticated poultry within a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) radius of the site are also under quarantine and are being tested and monitored for illness. To date, all additional samples have tested negative for avian influenza and no other flocks within the area have shown signs of illness.
The primary difference between LPAI and HPAI is mortality rate in domesticated poultry. A slight change to the viral structure can make a virus deadly for birds. Avian influenza virus strains often occur naturally in wild migratory birds without causing illness in those birds. With LPAI, domesticated chickens and turkeys may show little or no signs of illness. However, HPAI is often fatal for domesticated poultry.
The Giles County LPAI incident is similar to the Lincoln County HPAI incident in that both the low pathogenic and highly pathogenic viruses are an H7N9 strain of avian influenza. USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirms the H7N9 virus that affected the Lincoln County premises is of North American wild bird lineage. It is not the same as the China H7N9 virus affecting Asia and is genetically distinct.
The Lincoln County premises affected by HPAI remains under quarantine. To date, all additional poultry samples from the area surrounding that site have tested negative for avian influenza and no other flocks within the area have shown signs of illness. Testing and monitoring continues.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture posted notice of the Barron County case to the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health's website March 7. Hormel Foods, which owns Wilmar-based Jennie-O, confirmed the H5N2 strain was detected March 4 at its Barron operation. The USDA report said 84,000 birds are at the farm. READ MORE
“The outbreak of avian influenza here in the UK back in December 2016 has caused untold stress to the poultry and egg sector,” explains Dan England, director of PestFix. “The advent of new Animal & Plant Health Authority (APHA) protocol allows free range birds outdoors, if they can be kept segregated from wild birds. With this rule, the laser technology for bird dispersal comes into its own. Because they are domesticated, the hens are unaffected by the laser.”
One of the farms taking advantage of the technology is Orchard Eggs, based in West Sussex.
“Our birds are housed across 50 acres of orchard and we want to do everything to keep them safe from infection,” says Daniel Hoeberichts, owner of Orchard Eggs. “Once we heard about [laser technology], it seemed like an ideal solution to complement all of our other biosecurity measures.”
Automated lasers are method of repelling unwanted birds without causing harm to the wild birds, the chickens and the surrounding environment. The system being used at Orchard Eggs was developed by Bird Control Group, a Dutch company. The laser is silent and shows effectiveness of 90 to 100 per cent in bird dispersal at farms. This makes it a viable alternative to the expensive method of installing nets at the entire poultry farm.
After years of studying the role of wild birds in outbreaks of avian influenza in domestic poultry flocks, one of Canada’s top public sector veterinarians says the bottom line is farmers need to take precaution in the fall.
John Pasick is the national veterinary science authority for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and he says there’s an annual rhythm to infections. Much like humans tend to suffer more in the fall when kids return to the Petri dish of schools, birds spread disease in the fall during migration.
“The main message from our research is for farmers to maintain good biosecurity measures in the fall when the birds are migrating,” Pasick said in a recent interview. “Pay close attention to every detail during that time because domestic flocks have little natural immunity to diseases.” | READ MORE.
The requirements aim to protect poultry from a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza which has been spreading around Europe recently.
Housing birds is more of an issue for free range producers, but they will retain the ability to market their eggs as free range for the duration of the order. | READ MORE.
Currently, a paper-based visitor register is the global standard for keeping track of who entered or left a farm property at what time and where they’d been previously.
A manual system is slow and leaves room for error, however, neither of which is helpful during a disease emergency, especially in the early days when spread can still be prevented or contained.
“It’s not just livestock that are affected by catastrophic disease outbreaks, it’s just as important for crop and horticulture growers to keep unclean vehicles moving from farm to farm,” says Tim Nelson, CEO of Be Seen Be Safe Ltd. “Uncontrolled disease populations increase exponentially and that’s why control is so important.”
Be Seen Be Safe uses predetermined geo-fence boundaries around a farm business to automatically record movements on and off the property, either through a mobile phone app or an in-vehicle GPS system used by the individual accessing or leaving the premises.
Property owners can download and review their electronic visitor records using a personal login; no movements outside of the pre-determined geo-fence around the property are recorded.
The information is collated and analysed to predict disease spread, and can then be used to electronically contact people within the surrounding area of a possible outbreak, a process that currently is done manually.
It runs in tandem with the company’s customizable Farm Health Monitor software, which lets farm staff record clinical signs of disease on-farm before there is a formal diagnosis as part of regular or special herd visits. The software also allows for inventory management of antibiotics on-farm, by letting users record both purchase and actual use of antimicrobials.
“This is a proactive decision support tool for farmers,” explains Nelson. “The Farm Health Monitor gives you the clinical signs, Be Seen Be Safe provides the movement, and when you overlay the weather on a network of properties, you can start to show risk that you can alert people to.”
“Everybody is worried about catastrophic diseases, but this is also powerful for production-limiting diseases that can be carried from farm to farm,” he adds. “If livestock and poultry sectors start to see cost benefit from this because it is reducing the rate of production-limiting illness, people will get used to observing and preventing instead of diagnosing and treating disease.”
First steps have been taken to build a farm sector-led biosecurity community with the hosting of a successful information day in Guelph recently.
The system is being trialed in the Ontario poultry industry, as well as with large poultry integrators in the United States, and an agreement is in place with a Spanish partner to roll it out to the swine industry in the European Union.
A pilot is also underway with the wine industry in Australia to track the spread of fomites, which can carry disease.
Be Seen Be Safe has received support from the Bioenterprise Seed Funding program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The Ontario poultry industry trials are supported in part through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
The recommendation follows new research that shows migrating birds can help to spread deadly strains of avian flu around the world.
Some strains of bird flu viruses are highly lethal in birds they infect and pose a major threat to poultry farms worldwide.
In rare cases, the viruses can also infect people and cause life-threatening illness.
Researchers investigated how a subtype of bird flu called H5N8 spread around the world following outbreaks in South Korea that began in early 2014.
The virus spread to Japan, North America and Europe, causing outbreaks in birds there between autumn 2014 and spring 2015.
Scientists analysed migration patterns of wild birds that were found to be infected with the H5N8 virus.
The team then compared the genetic code of viruses isolated from infected birds collected from 16 different countries.
Their findings reveal that H5N8 was most likely carried by long-distance flights of infected migrating wild birds from Asia to Europe and North America via their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
The researchers say their findings reinforce the importance of maintaining strict exclusion areas around poultry farms to keep wild birds out.
"Bird flu is a major threat to the health and wellbeing of farmed chickens worldwide," says Samantha Lycett with the University of Edinburgh. "Our findings show that with good surveillance, rapid data sharing and collaboration, we can track how infections spread across continents."
Greater surveillance of wild birds at known breeding areas could help to provide early warning of threats of specific flu virus strains to birds and people, they add.
Deadly bird flu strains – known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) – can kill up to 100 per cent of the birds they infect within a few days.
The study was conducted by the Global Consortium for H5N8 and Related Influenza Viruses and involved scientists from 32 institutions worldwide.
This study could only have happened through bird flu researchers around the world pooling resources and working together," adds Mark Woolhouse, also with the University of Edinburgh. "We see this as a model for how scientists should unite to combat infectious diseases of all kinds.
The study is published in the journal Science and was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, COMPARE. The Roslin Institute receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Compensating farmers – and not compensating them – brings costs of its own, as proper compensation facilitates reporting and disease control. Unfortunately, not all compensation schemes are created equal, and lack of compensation is a problem that extends far beyond geographical borders. One could say that its consequences are global in scale.
Compensation around the world
At this year’s International Egg Commission (IEC) conference in Warsaw, HPAI was a hot topic. Concerned poultry producers from around the globe met in an economics workshop to listen to Peter van Horne speak about compensation schemes around the world. Van Horne is a poultry economist from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
There are a lot of regulations in the EU on how to compensate, said Van Horne as he dove into his presentation. The European Union clearly says where there is an outbreak of AI and birds are culled, farmers are compensated for the market value of that bird – both pullets and layers, he said.
“The EU, at the same time, says that it is very important that all of the member states have good control of the outbreak,” he continued. “If there’s an outbreak in one country, the neighbouring countries are also impacted.”
The EU compensates 50 per cent of direct losses because it believes that it’s in the best interest of all member states to do so. The EU, however, does not compensate for consequential losses, so all of the empty periods on the farm. That’s the risk of the farmer. How governments operate at the state level is their decision, said van Horne.
But how do you determine the market value of a layer? Do the eggs she could have laid determine her worth or is the farmer simply compensated for the value of the bird? Turns out that there’s no clear answer.
In the Netherlands, value is assigned to pullets beginning at seven weeks. Feed costs are also calculated and included up to a maximum of 23 weeks. There are two main points where market value is determined, at the beginning and at the end. Since there is no market for hens at 50 weeks of age, value is simply estimated. Value is also based on revenue that would have been earned from the eggs. Consequential costs, including the costs to destroy the birds, transport, and the cleaning and disinfection of farms, are not covered.
“The Dutch say that there should be a maximum that the farmers can pay,” said van Horne. “There is a fund with levies. For five years the levies go into a fund and then there is a certain amount of money compensated from this fund to give compensation payments to the farmers – so there is a ceiling because otherwise it would be too expensive for the farmers.”
“When there’s a big outbreak, like 2003, there are very, very high losses with a lot of birds culled, then it’s just only the first part [that is] paid by the farmers,” he continued.
Belgium’s compensation scheme, said van Horne, is very straightforward. With regards to direct losses, the EU pays 50 per cent and farmers pay the remaining 50 per cent. Regarding the cost of control, the EU pay 50 per cent and the Belgian government pays the remaining 50 per cent. Consequential losses are at the risk of the farmer.
In Germany, direct losses are paid by the EU (50 per cent), by the government (25 per cent) and by the farmer (25 per cent). The scheme is similar for control costs, although Germany is a little more complicated as the various states have different regulations. Like Belgium and the Netherlands, there is no compensation for consequential losses. There are, however, insurance companies that will cover consequential losses.
In France, farmers don’t have to pay anything for control or direct losses. The EU pays the 50 per cent, and the government pays 50 per cent. Consequential losses are not covered, but like Germany, there are insurance options.
Like the other EU member states, Spain gets 50 per cent compensation for direct losses. While van Horne couldn’t speak with great certainty on what happens beyond that, he did say that there are plenty of public-private insurance schemes in place.
Outside of Europe farmers have very different schemes. Australian farmers, for instance, are only compensated for direct losses. The amount of compensation is dependent on the type of disease. Diseases fall into three categories – one, two or three. The government compensates 100 per cent of direct losses for those diseases that fall into category one. Diseases that fall into category two, like HPAI H5 and N7, are paid for by the government and industry at 80 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. Category three diseases, such as HPAI other than H5 and N7, and LPAI subtypes H5 and H7, are paid for 50 per cent by government and 50 per cent by industry.
In Indonesia, where there’s no clear preventative or control program, farmers are offered little to no compensation. This creates an additional problem, van Horne pointed out. That is, when farmers are not compensated, they are not motivated to report cases to the government. In many cases, they take the birds to market as quickly as possible. Sometimes, though, farmers are offered credit schemes to return to farming once the crisis is over.
“There should be compensation to motivate the farmers to be involved in solving the problem,” said van Horne.
This has been a problem in South Africa where there is no compensation for consequential losses. “The difficulty we have, if it’s a controlled disease, then the government will depopulate,” one South African farmer said at the workshop. “But you don’t know what you’re going to be compensated when they depopulate.”
“It’s never happened with chickens, but it’s happened with ostriches and cattle, so we don’t have any poultry experience,” he clarified. “But it is a practical problem for us, and private insurance is too expensive.”
Just as schemes vary in other parts of the world, they differ from country to country in North America as well. Although no official details on Mexico’s compensation scheme could be found, a Mexican farmer at the workshop, Sergio Chavez, quoted a price of $0.50 per bird. Chavez’s concern went beyond compensation, though. In 2012, there was a major outbreak in Jalisco, he explained. This was particularly problematic for the industry, as Jalisco represents 55 per cent of Mexican production.
“I think that’s important to measure – the social impact, the political impact – because what happened at that time?” he asked. “The prices to the consumer skyrocketed – doubled or tripled.”
Until 2012, U.S. poultry farmers hadn’t faced large outbreaks, so they didn’t have a compensation scheme in place. “If you don’t have a problem then you don’t know how to compensate for it,” said Chad Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers. “Clearly, with the high-path AI outbreak of 2015 where we lost 35 million layers... we got intimately familiar with indemnity, and the formula and the areas that it was lacking.”
The first figures, said Gregory, weren’t good. The U.S. government came to a figure by calculating costs, including the costs for buying in and moving chicks, feed, vaccinations and service costs. One of the big problems was that the government was taking 90 per cent or more for dividends, earnings and taxes, he said.
“You’re left with about $1.00 to $1.10,” he said. “They add that to the figure to start of layer capitalization – so $4.25 to 4.50 – that is what she’s worth at 19 weeks.”
“That doesn’t come anywhere close to helping pay for the bird or helping the farmer staying in business,” he concluded. “We had a lot of upset farmers last year.”
The U.S. government also paid for cleaning and disinfecting, but Gregory says they hired contractors who had no idea what they were doing. “It took five times longer and it wasn’t done well,” he said.
Since then the U.S. government has changed the rules about virus elimination. The farmer now gets a cheque for around $6.45 per bird. “The total package is very fair,” said Gregory. “We think the reimbursement package is nice.
In Canada, the order to have animals destroyed as part of disease control activities comes from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) under the Health Animals Act.
“The amount of compensation is the market value, as determined by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, that the animal would have had at the time of its evaluation if it did not have to be destroyed,” explained Tammy Jarbeau, media relations person for CFIA.
The maximum amount established for this type of animal is in the Compensation for Destroyed Animals Regulations. If there is no readily available market for the animals, said Jarbeau, the market value is estimated using CFIA economic models. These models take into consideration factors such as incomes and costs for feed and bedding.
AI is a global issue
Avian influenza, unfortunately, is here to stay. As it affects farmers globally, prevention and controls programs, as well as compensation schemes are necessary to prevent its spread, especially as migratory birds don’t recognize geographical and economic borders. The meeting in Warsaw was a good start, though, as it provided a space to increase dialogue between affected countries.
Avian influenza (AI) is without a doubt one of the biggest concerns for the global poultry industry. New outbreaks occur in most regions of the world every year, and according to Arjan Stegeman of Utrecht University in The Netherlands, it’s a problem that is only going to get worse. Stegeman was a keynote speaker at the International Egg Commission’s Global Leadership Conference in Berlin last September. His talk, Understanding AI, opened what would be an interesting week.
The unpredictability of AI
Commonly called the bird flu, AI is an infectious viral disease that occurs in birds, particularly in wild waterfowl, such as geese and ducks. AI viruses can be sub-divided into two groups, high pathogenic and low pathogenic AI. This division is based on their ability to cause disease in poultry. Low pathogenic viruses can cause mild symptoms, like gut trouble, whereas high pathogenic viruses result in high mortality rates, sometimes up to 100 per cent in just 48 hours.
Avian influenza ranges from H1–H17 types; only H5 and H7 are highly pathogenic, though. While highly pathogenic viruses are always categorized as either H5 or H7, not all H5 or H7 viruses are highly pathogenic. H5 and H7 viruses are actually quite similar, Stegeman said. In fact, it’s only a very small part of the gene encoding that is different.
High pathogenic viruses, however, can arise from low pathogenic types. “Sometimes we know that this happens quite quickly, so on the same farm where the virus was introduced,” said Stegeman. “And other times it can take more than half a year, like we’ve seen in Italy. That is something that we would like to understand better.”
Another peculiar feature of this virus is that it can easily exchange genetic material. “If a duck gets infected by the H5N1 virus, and at the same time an N8 virus, a new virus can arise from that,” Stegeman explained. That virus would be referred to as H5N8.
“This happened, for example, with the H5N2 virus that has arisen in the United States,” Stegeman continued. “So this virus has all kinds of tricky features that can make it survive in the population and change its nature in a way that is very difficult to catch.”
While high pathogenic viruses wreak the most havoc, they’re the quickest to be diagnosed by the farmer. Transmission, said Stegeman, is pretty much the same as it is with the low pathogenic viruses. The concentration of the virus is much higher in high pathogenic types though.
In the past 10 to 15 years, there have been a number of interesting occurrences in highly pathogenic AI. For one, the scientific literature before 2003 showed that epidemics of new sub-types (H5N1 or H7N7) always arose from the introduction of a new low-path virus, which then mutated to a high path virus. This still happens today, only now, wild birds have entered the equation. The hypothesis, Stegeman explained, is that the H5N1 epidemic was not effectively controlled in some countries, and spillover of the virus to wild birds occurred. In fact, experts agree that H5N1 was the first high pathogenic AI to be widely spread through the movement of wild birds. Today, it is possible for several wild bird species to be high pathogenic H5 infected without showing any signs at all.
Global spread of H5N8 explained
The global spread of the H5N8 virus began in China and South Korea. Later, it spread to Europe. As of November 2014, the virus had spread further to Canada and the United States. Interestingly, though, the pattern of spread does not match the migratory routes of wild birds, Stegeman said.
The virus, he explained, spread first from China and South Korea to Siberia. There, birds from Western Europe and Asia mixed and the resulting viruses were brought to Europe in the spring. A similar thing happened in North America.
There are tools available to evaluate the genetic differences between viruses, and results have shown that many only differ by one genetic position. “For the rest, this is not what we see,” said Stegeman. “What we see is something that is really very scattered with really huge differences between these viruses. What this means is that we’re dealing with separate introductions, and not between-farm transmission. The most likely cause of that is the wild bird population.”
Differences between the U.S. and Europe
In April of 2015, what has since been described as the worst animal disease outbreak in the history of the U.S. began. On April 12, the first birds tested positive for high pathogenic AI on a 200,000-bird cage-free operation in Wisconsin. On April 20, a five million bird operation in Iowa was hit.
“From April 20 until the middle of June, it was absolutely crazy,” Chad Gregory of United Egg Producers in the U.S., told the crowd in Berlin. “Every single day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day it was quite the experience – Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.”
Ultimately, the outbreak ended up wiping out some 35 million egg-laying hens, and another five to six million pullets.
“Those 35 million egg-laying hens represented about 12 per cent of the entire U.S. flock,” Gregory said. “And unfortunately 30 million of the 35 million we lost were dedicated to the egg product market.”
The U.S. turkey industry lost almost eight million turkeys, primarily in the Iowa and Minnesota areas. In total, 223 premises tested positive.
“We didn’t know what to do in the beginning,” Gregory said. “We felt like there was just so much chaos going on in those first couple of days.”
But what made the U.S. situation so much different than the European cases? Dr. Klaus-Peter Behr of AniCon in Germany explained.
The H5N8 virus that hit both Europe and North America originated in Southeast Asia. This virus found its way with migrating birds via Russia to Europe and via Alaska and Canada to several U.S. states. “On its way to the U.S. it mingled up with an H9N2 virus and became the H5N2 virus hitting the U.S. poultry industry,” Behr said.
The U.S. virus experienced a severe delay or incubation period, whereas the original H5N8 needed only two days from infection before severe mortality began. In the U.S., mortality didn’t begin for eight to 10 days.
“This difference gave the U.S. virus a whole additional week to intensively multiply and spread without being obviously present, as shown by increased mortality,” Behr said.
In Europe, poultry producers had a tremendous advantage, since the virus became obvious very quickly after introduction on the farm. “This was the crucial difference that made it possible to stop spreading of the virus one week earlier than in the U.S. cases,” Behr concluded.
AI isn't going anywhere
Most experts agree; AI isn’t going anywhere. That’s not to say, though, that producers are helpless. “I think, as many of you realize, we may have to live with bird flu for quite a while,” Stegeman said at the end of his presentation. “That does not mean that we cannot do anything because introductions for known pathogenic virus will remain. But it does leave us wondering what will happen with future outbreaks with the highly pathogenic virus, especially given that all the migratory birds are now coming back.”
Should a producer find him or herself facing avian influenza or another catastrophic disease event, Ontario turkey producer Bob McCauley has the following advice to share: “keep track of everything.”
McCauley manages the turkey farm that was the first to be infected with avian influenza (AI) in southwestern Ontario last spring. Speaking at a Poultry Industry Council (PIC) Producer Update in February, McCauley was candid about how stressful the experience of dealing with AI was, and the importance of keeping record of everyone he talked to, what they talked about and next steps. When under such stress, it’s not easy to keep track of who said what – and when your livelihood is at stake, you want to make sure everyone is held accountable and stay in control of your own operation.
Despite having robust biosecurity plans for poultry facilities in place, unfortunately avian influenza can still find its way into a barn (see comments from Jim Dean, CEO of Center Fresh Group, on page 37). While good biosecurity practices focus on keeping a pathogen such as AI out of a barn, since the AI outbreak in British Columbia in 2004, much work has been done in Canada to understand how to minimize its spread to other facilities once a pathogen does get into a barn. Just as McCauley wanted to keep track of what was going on at his farm during AI recovery, it’s crucial that industry track everything and everyone that had been on his farm in the days before his birds showed symptoms.
Service providers, suppliers and other vehicles moving from farm to farm pose a significant risk of disease spread. This has been looked at extensively and much work has been done to understand and mitigate this risk. At the same PIC Producer Update meeting in February, Tom Baker, incident commander of the Feather Board Command Centre (FBCC), said that connectedness through people, equipment and service providers caused avian influenza to spread rapidly in the U.S. last year, and was “much more significant than airborne transmission.”
But performing a traceback to determine which farms may be at risk from contact through a shared provider is not instantaneous. The Canadian poultry industry as a whole has gotten much better at reducing the time required to perform such a traceback. This can be seen in the reduced number of farms infected in B.C. in 2014 versus 2004, and the fact that AI was limited to three premises in Ontario in 2015.
While executive director of the PIC, Tim Nelson wanted to find a more immediate solution. After several years of working with a technology partner, Nelson, now CEO of the Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC), is seeing his vision become reality. The “Be Seen Be Safe” app (see full story on page 10) acts as a virtual logbook, recording the movement of who comes on and off a farm and logging the information in a central database. During an emergency, Be Seen Be Safe can quickly analyze visitor information obtained from an infected property and plot the movement of visitors to that property throughout its infectious period, where they came from and where they went in order to identify potentially infected secondary properties.
While the app is not meant to replace good biosecurity practices on-farm, it offers industry the potential to keep AI incidents rapidly contained so that, hopefully, disease incidents can be kept to one or two farms and the industry can get back to business sooner.
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Agricultural Data Use and TransparencyFri Jun 23, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Breakfast on the Farm Sat Jun 24, 2017 @ 9:00AM - 01:00PM
Children’s Progressive Safety Day Thu Jul 06, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Chicken Marketing Summit Sun Jul 16, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Poultry Science Association AGM Mon Jul 17, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM