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Turkey Flu Costs Manitoba Producer Big Time

AManitoba turkey breeder faces losing up to a year’s income after an avian influenza virus was detected on his farm.

The producer’s birds have been destroyed, his barn must be disinfected and it’ll be months before he can get back into production, said Bill Uruski, Manitoba Turkey Producers chairman.

“For this producer, he has lost the bulk of one year’s income as it stands now,” he said.

Uruski said the farmer, whom he would not name, is a new producer in his 20s who recently took over the operation in the Rural Municipality of Rockwood north of Winnipeg from a relative.

Because he is a breeder, the producer does not produce year round. Manitoba’s eight turkey breeders stagger their production cycles throughout the year to meet the demand from hatcheries and other producers, Uruski said.

“The loss of income in this case is substantial.”

The loss is particularly high because the producer was near the beginning of his production cycle rather than at the end of it, Uruski added.

The producer will receive compensation for the loss of over 8,000 birds. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency compensates to full market value for livestock and poultry that have to be destroyed because of a reportable disease.

BREEDERS HIGHER VALUE

But Uruski worried compensation in this case may not be adequate because breeder turkeys have a far higher value than commercial birds. A breeder hen can be worth six times as much as a regular hen. Breeder toms are worth even more.

The outbreak came to light Nov. 18 when the producer noticed a sharp drop in egg production. He called in a veterinarian who collected samples and sent them to the provincial veterinary lab. Tests revealed the presence of an H5 influenza strain. The operation was immediately quarantined, as were three other operations supplied by the farm.

Further analysis identified the virus as low pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza. It is the first time this particular strain has occurred in a commercial Manitoba poultry flock.

Dr. Wayne Lees, Manitoba’s chief veterinarian, said last week the birds will be euthanized with carbon dioxide and the barn disinfected. The building cannot be restocked until 21 days after cleaning.

Normally, the presence of a low-pathogenic strain would not trigger such drastic moves. But because Manitoba exports turkey eggs and poults to the United States, the CFIA heightened disease control measures, Uruski said.

He said it’s unclear if the producer will have to pay for disinfecting the barn or if CFIA will.

What is clear is that there’s no compensation program for business interruption and lost income resulting from a livestock disease outbreak, said Uruski.

“As we understand it, there is no provision federally to make up for that at this point in time.”

Manitoba Turkey Producers is lobbying the federal government to help this producer. It also wants measures to compensate agricultural sectors for income losses from disease outbreaks.

Uruski said compensation should be based on producers’ historical average income and where they were in their production cycle when the disease hit.

H5N2 avian influenza is found periodically in North American wild waterfowl through ongoing wildlife surveys. Lees said this particular strain was previously detected in commercial flocks in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

How the strain got into this particular barn is not known. Lees said it was likely introduced somehow from the outside.

Public health officials emphasized the virus poses no danger to human health.

Lees said quick action to contain the H5N2 outbreak shows the industry surveillance system for animal diseases “worked and it worked very well.”

But it shows the need for farms to maintain a high level of biosecurity, he added.

“We don’t expect to prevent every single case of disease. But the fact that this has been a very well-controlled outbreak shows that biosecurity does work at limiting the spread of it.” [email protected]

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“Thelossofincomeinthiscaseissubstantial.”

– BILL URUSKI, MANITOBA TURKEY PRODUCERS

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