Bird flu hasn’t yet hit Alberta’s poultry industry but it’s a real threat for provincial egg farmers, and one the federal government needs to manage.
Avian influenza has killed nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys in the U.S. and hit a handful of Ontario and B.C. operations earlier this year.
“We saw what a big hit that took out of the poultry industry and the ag industry overall,” said Susan Schafers, chair of the Egg Farmers of Alberta.
But while producers “do the best they can” to protect their barns, there’s no guaranteed defence against a disease that can originate with wild birds and spread quickly from farm to farm.
“You can have the best type of operation, and if it’s an airborne issue, there’s very little you can do as a farmer,” said Schafers.
“Having that continued support from government for major disease issues is something we would be looking for.”
The federal government supports national biosecurity programs to protect farmers against disease outbreaks like avian influenza, including reporting systems, lab facilities, and veterinarians. But financial support is important as well, she said.
“At this stage, avian influenza losses are often covered under government support programs, and it’s important that that continues on.”
Any disease outbreak erodes consumers’ confidence, she said.
“There are certainly concerns with any disease and any biosecurity issues, in that consumers just don’t feel as confident purchasing the product,” said Schafers.
Her industry will also be expecting the next government to stand by supply management, she said.
“If we move away from supply management, we’re going to move away from small family farms and local business into very large, vertically integrated farms.”
There seems to be “very good” support for supply management at the federal level, “but there’s a lot of concern from farmers from all across the country about this,” she said.
“They need to be keeping the farmers and their communities in mind when they go to these trade negotiations,” said Schafers. “We’re asking them not to trade off supply management for access for other commodities.”