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Turkey farmers sound alarm over shortages as cases of avian flu rise


Turkey farmers are sounding the alarm as the avian flu spreads, killing birds across the country, leaving many left to find alternatives for Christmas dinner.

Staff with Christmas Cheer, a Barrie-based charity, cancelled an order of over 1,600 turkeys meant for holiday hampers for needy families because of the significant supply shortages.

"We give them a Turkey dinner, but this year, we will have to replace it with something different," said Steph Quenneville, the charity's president.

Quenneville said it's the first time in 44 years the charity has had challenges providing the holiday staple dinner.

"We're going to serve 1,600 hams to our Christmas cheer families this year," she said.

Turkey Farmers of Ontario told CTV News that one of the possible reasons could be a lack of frozen birds, with holiday trends shifting to fresh birds.

"The storage stock of turkeys is at one of its lowest points in the last 30 years," said Brian Ricker.

The changes in how people prepare turkeys also come at a time when avian influenza is spreading in parts of the country, including Ontario.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports that Ontario has 10 infected locations impacting 692,700 birds.

It's unclear how many of those birds are turkeys.

British Columbia has 43 infected locations, impacting 866,200 as of November 30.

"It appears that the virus is more prevalent this year as we've seen in last years here in B.C.," noted B.C. Poultry Association chief information officer Amanda Brittain. "Here in B.C., this is our fifth outbreak of influenza."

Brittain said humans aren't at risk of contracting avian influenza, and farmers are following strict safety protocols, including changing clothes and disinfecting every time they enter or exit the facility to prevent containments.

Mark Reusser and his flock of turkeys in Ontario remain safe, but he remains on edge as the reports of avian influenza continue to surface.

"Very concerned. It's not something any farmer wants to deal with," said Reusser.

Infected birds have to be euthanized to prevent the further transmission of the highly contagious avian flu.

The long-time farmer says seeing flocks killed elsewhere heightens anxiety as the future remains uncertain of if or when the avian flu infects his birds.

"It can be devastating to economics and income but also devastating in terms of mental health," said Reusser.

Turkey Farmers of Ontario says there is enough supply for the demand right now, but it is monitoring the situation in the province and across the country. Top Stories

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