How Did Avian Flu Get Past Industry’s Safeguards?

By December 27, 2014Business of Agriculture

Climate change and its impact on migration patterns are just two of the suggested possible causes of the Avian Flu crisis which has hit the Lower Mainland and appears to be spreading through wild flocks to Washington State and Oregon.

After repeated outbreaks over the last decade the BC poultry industry has tried hard to protect itself and reassure the public about the safety of the enormous flocks concentrated in such close proximity south of the Fraser River.

On Friday the Vancouver Sun reported, that “… a strain of highly pathogenic bird flu virus, H5N8, had been found in a flock of 100 guinea fowl and chickens in the southern Oregon town of Winston.

[excerpt] Both the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the virus were found in Washington state. The state Department of Agriculture reported H5N2 in a wild northern pintail duck found in Whatcom County. A captive gyrfalcon that was fed a wild duck from the same area died of H5N8.

In British Columbia, 11 poultry farms have been quarantined after discovery of the virus, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The business website reported that both strains,”… are believed to be mutated strains of an avian influenza that emerged in Asia in the late 20th century. The infections are believed to be carried by waterfowl that have migrated between continents over the years.They can have varying impact on domestic and commercial flocks depending on the strain and the affected species, with some H5N2 carriers showing no symptoms in waterfowl. It’s often more pathogenic to commercial poultry, however.”

Jan Lee, reporting for, says, “Scientists figured out as early as 2009 that climate change would force birds to change their migration patterns. In so doing, said Dr. Marius Gilbert et al, the migrations heightened the chance for avian influenza strains to spread and mutate.

“Western Canada lost significantly this month when H5N2 was detected in three of its Fraser Valley poultry farms. By the time the Canadian Inspection Agency had cordoned of the affected area, more than 11 commercial farms had been affected, leading to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of chickens and turkeys right before Christmas.”

The US poultry industry is reportedly expecting a slump in sales, and farmers across the US are being warned to stay vigilant.

According to the BC Chicken Marketing Board, “All poultry and egg farmers and their supporting organizations have been working diligently with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as well as other federal and provincial governments and agencies, and are being extremely vigilant in practicing strict biosecurity protocols to protect their flock and prevent further spread.

“Moreover, the primary control zones placed by the CFIA only applies to the poultry and egg farms, their flocks and their workers, visitors to these farms and people with pet birds. It does not impact the general public living or driving in those areas.”

Though the last two Avian Flu incidents in the Fraser Valley pale in comparison to the crisis of 2004 which led to 17 million birds being killed, the industry has tried desperately to protect its intensive farming methods by putting strict bio-hazard controls on movements in and out of the many giant factory farms centered in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley.

The industry has been criticized for endangering itself by concentrating itself so much in such a small geographic area.

The industry has taken a number of measures to isolate farms from one another, keep workers or other visitors to farms from taking any disease which may be present with them and of intervening quickly in cases of outbreaks such as this one.

  • 2004 were slaughtered after a variant of avian flu with high capacity to cause and spread disease led to the slaughter of 17 million birds and left a lasting impact on the industry
  • 2005 H5 avian flu was discovered in Yarrow and 60,000 birds were euthanized
  • 2009 H5 avian flu was discovered on two Abbotsford farms resulting in the quarantine of 41 farms and the killing of 72,000 birds

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