Canadian Manufacturing

Avian flu outbreak in B.C. not enough to spoil holiday dinner

There will be plenty of turkeys on store shelves during holidays despite an avian flu outbreak that has killed thousands of animals

VANCOUVER—Poultry producers are assuring British Columbians there will be plenty of turkeys on store shelves during the holidays despite an avian flu outbreak that has killed thousands of animals.

The industry group representing farmers who raise chickens, turkeys and eggs says it has bolstered its stock with birds from out of the province so prices remain stable.

Two affected turkey farms in British Columbia had to destroy about 30,000 birds that would have been destined for holiday dinner tables, said Ray Nickel, president of the BC Poultry Association.

Nickel described the shortfall as relatively small given that British Columbians typically consume about 3.3 million kilograms of turkey during the holidays.

“There’s been an impact but not one that was significant enough where stocks were so low that there were shortages,” said Nickel in a phone interview.

He said that turkey continues to be supplied from outside the province, typically by companies that operate farms both in B.C. and across the country.

Nickel added that it’s important for shoppers to understand that the province’s poultry and egg products are safe to eat.

He said there is no evidence that eating poultry or eggs can transmit the avian flu virus to humans.

“This is not about food safety. This is about animal health,” he said, adding it’s been an “emotional” time for B.C. poultry farmers who have suffered massive losses.

Michel Benoit, General Manager of BC Turkey Farmers, said about 10 per cent of turkey at B.C. grocery stores will come from other provinces this holiday season.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is “doing a fantastic job of making sure there’s no infected poultry leaving the property,” he said, adding that even if infected turkey did somehow wind up on store shelves the virus would be killed at oven temperatures.

A national poll conducted by the industry showed that 92 per cent of B.C. residents plan on eating the same amount of poultry and eggs that they did before the outbreak.

Leger Marketing conducted an online poll between Dec. 15 and 19 of about 1,200 Canadians and examined the 300 responses from British Columbians, said Lisa Bishop of Chicken Farmers of Canada.

Nearly 250,000 chickens and turkeys are either dead or set to be euthanized due to avian flu, which has infected 11 sites in B.C.’s Fraser Valley since the beginning of the month.

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