Keep a watchful eye on Thanksgiving turkey supplies
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Keep a watchful eye on Thanksgiving turkey supplies

Avian flu has reappeared in Canada, and poultry producers on edge. If you’re counting on serving turkey for Thanksgiving, you should be OK, but it’s probably wise to get a bird sooner than later, given the possibility of pricing rising further and supplies get scarce.

Avian flu is typically spread by migrating birds and flock-to-flock contact. It pummelled the poultry industry a few years ago, and seeing rising cases again worldwide, in February the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) restricted poultry product imports from troubled regions.

Once it takes hold in closely confined flocks, avian flu spreads rapidly. As of Monday, it had infected more than 2.3 million birds in Canada, mostly in Alberta (one million). Ontario, with 560,000 cases, is the second most-infected province with avian flu.

Infected birds can get as sick as people with a bad case of human flu. Whole flocks are taken out of production and destroyed. That sounds extreme, but it’s a necessary measure to try to keep the disease in check.

The CFIA says there’s no evidence that avian flu can be transmitted to humans through cooked poultry or eggs. That’s good, but on the farm it’s a different story. The United States Department of Agriculture says the virus has infected humans who inhale it – typically, producers or handlers – and it can make them very sick.

In the US, the problem is much worse. There, some 44 million birds. Including 4.5 million turkeys, have been destroyed.

Worse, officials have seen it jump species – this spring, the avian flu virus was found in a dead bottlenose dolphin in Florida. A similar finding had occurred earlier in Sweden. Previously, avian flu was not suspected of affecting anything other than birds.

So, what to do? First off, know that regulatory officials are on top of this. Meat or meat by-products from infected birds doesn’t enter the food chain… which is a blessing, considering the virus can stay alive even when frozen.

As well, it’s killed by cooking at more than 165 degrees F. I’m not sure anyone cooks poultry at that low of an oven temperature. So even in just-in-case scenarios, you and your family should be fine if you handle and cook poultry like you usually do.

Finally, spare a thought for the birds, and for the producers, and for the professionals like veterinarians and mental health workers who help them through potential disasters. Producers didn’t need any more stress this fall, on top of skyrocketing feed and energy costs and chronic labour shortages they’re experiencing.

So while you’re shopping for your Thanksgiving turkey, consider getting your Christmas turkey at the same time and freezing it. A commodity tracker in the US says because of avian flu, turkeys in cold storage are at “alarmingly low” levels. Don’t be surprised if the same thing happens in Canada, considering the disease is running amok.

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