U.S. suspends some B.C. poultry imports over avian flu

(Stephen Ausmus photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Chicago | Reuters –– The U.S. has suspended imports of live and raw poultry from British Columbia due to an outbreak of bird flu virus in the province’s Fraser Valley, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinary officer told Reuters on Monday.

The restrictions began on Dec. 4, the same day Canada identified the virus as a “highly pathogenic” H5N2 strain, said John Clifford, USDA’s chief veterinarian.

“It’s a temporary ban,” Clifford said in a telephone interview, adding that the ban will likely last several months.

Avian flu is an infectious viral disease of birds. Most bird flu viruses do not infect humans or pose safety risks when poultry products are properly handled and cooked.

Canada’s chief veterinary officer, Harpreet Kochhar, said Monday the U.S. had restricted imports of B.C. birds and hatching eggs, poultry meat, eggs and egg products and animal byproducts.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said five B.C. farms were infected with avian influenza, killing 80,000 turkeys and chickens so far. The birds on the farms that survived the flu are being destroyed.

USDA does not “see any current risk to human health” in the U.S. due to the outbreak, Clifford said. The department is evaluating whether to dispatch an employee to Canada to take part in the response, he added.

Canada “invited us last week to send somebody if we wanted to,” Clifford said.

B.C. exported live fowl and poultry products to the U.S. worth C$5.8 million in 2013, according to Statistics Canada.

Canada and Chile are the two biggest suppliers of imported poultry to the U.S., said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council in Washington, D.C., while noting that 99 per cent of the chicken eaten in the U.S. is hatched, raised and processed in the country.

“In the grand scheme of total consumption, products from those countries are miniscule,” Super said.

Ray Nickel, president of the B.C. Poultry Association, said farmers in the province mainly grow turkeys and chickens for domestic buyers.

South Korea, Hong Kong, South Africa, Mexico, Taiwan and Japan have also imposed varying bans on Canadian poultry products due to the outbreak.

Kochhar said officials had established restrictions on movement of captive birds, poultry products and feed within a zone around the infected farms.

— Tom Polansek reports on agriculture and ag markets for Reuters from Chicago. Additional reporting for Reuters by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg.

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