U.S. avian flu outbreak halts Canadian producers’ bird, egg supply

A case of avian influenza in the United States has shut down imports from a key state for the Canadian poultry industry. 

On March 11, officials confirmed a case of H5N2 in Arkansas, an important source of broiler hatching eggs and genetics.  

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency had already prohibited imports of live birds, eggs and raw poultry products from Missouri, Minnesota, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington following cases in those states. 

“Usually we’d look at this and say it’s not a big issue. Minnesota, Missouri, whatever. The issue now with positive case in Arkansas is that’s where we’re pulling our breeders from,” said Clinton Monchuk, chief executive officer of Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan. 

The CFIA gave public notice of the ban March 13.

“I’m pushing our government people to get as much information as they can as quickly as they can, but of course that has to be forthcoming from the U.S.,” said Robin Horel, president of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council.

Horel said as much as 20 percent of broiler hatching eggs in Canadian barns come from the United States, with the vast majority arriving from Arkansas. These shipments occur regularly, which means hatcheries were already looking for new American sources last week.

Arkansas is also a key supplier of parent stock for Canadian production. 

Officials said the control zone could shrink, allowing for the resumption of some imports as early as this week. 

However, other issues could delay that progression. 

“At some point, when USDA can show containment, then CFIA may consider shrinking the zone from the state lines down to a geographical zone with natural barriers,” said Wayne Hiltz, executive director of Manitoba Chicken Producers.

“Of course, if it spreads or if new cases come out in the next few days, then the likelihood of that happening is probably less.”

Reuters reported March 16 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is developing new rules in Arkansas that will determine the length of a quarantine. In previous avian influenza cases, farms required two negative tests administered 10 days apart to lift the control zone. However, the H5N2 strain seen in Arkansas and other recent cases is more virulent than past cases.

Monchuk told the Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan annual meeting in Saskatoon last week that producers could see a shortage of breeder supply. 

“It is unfortunate,” he said. “Hopefully, we can resolve the issue as soon as possible and they can shrink that control zone, but until they do we’re going to have to roll with the punches on this.”

Officials said it would take a prolonged ban to hinder production. 

“The long-term concern is if some of our breeder producers are unable to get their day old pullets in,” said Hiltz. “Then 26 weeks later, then we have a hole in our domestic breeder production.” 

The Arkansas case involved a flock of 40,020 turkeys located along the Mississippi flyway, which is a bird migration route that also covers Minnesota and Missouri. 

“Because these are being found in the Mississippi flyway, it’s like you can draw an arrow right up and just point it right at Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” said Monchuk. “Be very vigilant with your biosecurity.”

Hiltz said Manitoba producers were told to move to “alert biosecurity” earlier this week. The higher level of concern restricts some activities in and around barns and prohibits visitors. 

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