Small-scale chicken farmers feel left in dark on bird flu outbreak

·4 min read
Small-scale chicken farmers say they feel left in the dark by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over an outbreak of avian influenza at a nearby operation about 20 kilometres south of Moncton. (Pierre Fournier/CBC - image credit)
Small-scale chicken farmers say they feel left in the dark by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over an outbreak of avian influenza at a nearby operation about 20 kilometres south of Moncton. (Pierre Fournier/CBC - image credit)

Chicken farmers in southeastern New Brunswick say they were left in the dark about an outbreak of deadly avian influenza in their region.

Amanda Tingley has about 180 chickens on her farm, located less than 10 kilometres from where an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza was declared in a backyard chicken flock in Turtle Creek, about 20 kilometres south of Moncton.

That puts her in what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency calls the "primary control zone," where no birds, bird products or byproducts can be moved into, out of, or within, without permission.

Yet she says she received no calls, visits or notices from the agency to warn her about the outbreak.

"If they want to try to quarantine this or get it under control, they should be informing people right away, especially anybody that lives around there," she said.

On Monday, April 25, the inspection agency detected bird flu within a backyard flock of fewer than 100 chickens in Turtle Creek.

Submitted by Amanda Tingley
Submitted by Amanda Tingley

In an email, the agency said it confirmed the disease after being contacted by the New Brunswick chief veterinary officer on April 22 regarding a suspected avian influenza case at that site. Preliminary results indicated a presumptive positive for avian influenza, and the results were confirmed on April 25.

Last Thursday, the agency declared an "infected zone" in the immediate area around the outbreak, and a "primary control zone" encompassing a 10-kilometre radius around it.

Movement of live birds into the infected zone is prohibited until the disease is determined to be under control within the primary control zone.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Canadian Food Inspection Agency

CBC News asked the agency about Tingley's concerns, as well as what steps it took to notify residents and farmers about the outbreak, and is awaiting a response.

The detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as H5N1, in Turtle Creek is the first to hit farmed poultry in New Brunswick since the new variant of the disease began sweeping across Canada in recent months.

The disease has previously been detected in wild birds in New Brunswick, which the agency says it suspects caused the Turtle Creek outbreak.

Finding out through social media, word of mouth

Tingley's farm is located in a community called Colpitts Settlement, just west of Turtle Creek.

The farm is home to about 36 laying hens and about 150 "meat kings," referring to chickens raised for meat. The farm is classed as "non-commercial," though she can still sell eggs and meat provided she follows certain rules.

Last week, Tingley had no idea that cases of avian influenza had been detected nearby, and only found out on Thursday because a friend shared information on Facebook from the agency's website.

"If I didn't see it on Facebook, I wouldn't know it was even going on," Tingley said. "[The Canadian Food Inspection Agency] have told us absolutely nothing."

Facebook/Amanda Tingley
Facebook/Amanda Tingley

Alyssa Lane also lives in Colpitts Settlement, and her farm, with about 50 chickens, straddles the edge of the infection zone.

She said she only found out about the outbreak through a friend last Friday.

"I'm very shocked of the lack of information that was provided to the public," Lane said.

"I just feel like maybe [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency] should have went door to door. I mean, I know we're still in the COVID process of this, but they could have left flyers, they could have left something on the door or something to say, you know, 'Hey, it's in your area.'"

She said someone from the agency visited her home on Sunday, almost a full week after the disease was detected.

A communication gap for small farmers

Small-scale poultry and egg farmers often don't belong to the industry boards, such as Chicken Farmers of Canada, or Egg Farmers of Canada.

As a result, they might be getting left out of the information chain that typically goes from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to the industry boards, and then to individual farmers, said Suzanne Fournier, executive director of the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick.

Fournier said with avian influenza spreading across the country, the agency is going to need to step up its work, and possibly partner with the province to improve communication to small unregulated farms.

"It's something we've identified for a few years now, that it could potentially lead to the further and faster spread of disease if, you know, no one is effectively communicating to the backyard flocks and … small producers of unregulated flocks," Fournier said.

"I hope, you know, that we can help mitigate that by, you know, making sure that we're all working together and … really spreading the information far and wide."

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