Shopping for turkey? What to know about bird flu, prices ahead of Thanksgiving

Click to play video: 'Avian flu impacts poultry producers amid Thanksgiving turkey demand'
Avian flu impacts poultry producers amid Thanksgiving turkey demand
WATCH: Avian flu impacts poultry producers amid Thanksgiving turkey demand – Oct 3, 2022

Canadians planning their Thanksgiving dinners can breathe easy this year.

There is “abundant supply” of turkey in the country ahead of the busy holiday season, producers say, but farmers are still wary of the risks of bird flu that disrupted supply last year.

The turkey industry was one of the hardest hit by the disease in 2022, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

So far this year, one million birds have been impacted by avian influenza detected in 47 locations across seven provinces, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) told Global News.

Out of these, 12 infected premises had turkeys on them along with other species, CFIA said.

Turkey Farmers of Canada (TFC), which represents more than 500 turkey farmers across the country, said it is monitoring the avian flu situation moving into fall and is in regular communication with the CFIA.

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“Currently, there have been only a few isolated cases of avian influenza in poultry flocks this season, and we have no concerns about avian influenza impacting turkey availability for the holiday seasons in 2023,” Phil Boyd, executive director of Turkey Farmers of Canada, told Global News in an emailed statement.

Click to play video: 'Food inflation hitting Canadians hard this Thanksgiving'
Food inflation hitting Canadians hard this Thanksgiving

Turkey groups say the sector has bounced back from underproduction and inflationary pressures that elevated prices.

“We’re not expecting any shortages heading into the holiday period this year,” said Natalie Veles, executive director of the B.C. Turkey Marketing Board.

“Our producers have gotten right back into business after last year’s case(s) of avian influenza that really had a big impact on our sector,” she told Global News in an interview.

As of Sept. 28, an estimated 7.7 million birds have been impacted by the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), also known as H5N1 across the country, according to the latest data by the CFIA.

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Despite fewer occurrences seen this year, farmers remain “very vigilant” in the fall amid the migratory season for wild birds when the risk of infection is typically high.

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“It’s something that’s at the top of mind, especially during those migratory seasons and we’re in the middle of one right now,” said Matt Steele, chair of the Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

“Our farmers are being vigilant with the security of their flocks and making sure they’re safe and comfortable and protected from the avian flu,” he told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Why avian flu spread has some experts cautioning need for human vaccine'
Why avian flu spread has some experts cautioning need for human vaccine

Is your Thanksgiving turkey safe?

Avian flu is spread through contact with an infected bird or poultry products. Although rare, humans and non-avian species can also get infected.

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However, the virus does not pose a food safety concern, the CFIA says.

“There is no evidence to suggest that eating cooked poultry or eggs could transmit HPAI to humans,” the agency states on its website. 

To keep the virus in check, the CFIA in collaboration with the industry has surveillance programs in place that target wild birds and domestic flocks.

Biosecurity measures involve maintaining good hygiene practices and limiting exposure to external sources of contamination, the agency says.

“Canadian turkey farmers meet strict biosecurity standards, and as we move into fall, have heightened precautions to prevent avian influenza from entering their barns,” Boyd said.

Click to play video: 'Hundreds of birds potentially dead amid spread of Avian flu in Ontario'
Hundreds of birds potentially dead amid spread of Avian flu in Ontario

Canada has also placed restrictions on imports of some poultry products or by-products from U.S. states affected by a bird flu outbreak.

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For Thanksgiving last year, more than two million whole turkeys were purchased by Canadians, which was almost a third of all whole turkeys sold in 2022, according to the Turkey Farmers of Canada.

In total, Canadians consumed 127.9 million kilograms of turkey throughout the year.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, the industry is working hard to get the birds ready and is hopeful there is enough appetite.

“It’s a robust time for sales of whole turkeys across Ontario and across the country and so we look forward to having a strong Thanksgiving sales program,” Steele said.

How much does a Thanksgiving turkey cost?

Over the past year and a half, Canadians have seen grocery trips become more costly amid overall inflationary pressures.

Fresh or frozen poultry prices were up by 8.9 per cent year over year in August, according to the Statistics Canada’s latest inflation data published last month.

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Farmers have also seen the cost of grains to feed the birds go up that, in turn, translated to consumers paying more for turkey last year.

Click to play video: 'Shoppers shifting spending habits, but not for Thanksgiving'
Shoppers shifting spending habits, but not for Thanksgiving

However, Canadians could expect to see stable turkey prices when they go shopping for their Thanksgiving meals.

“We’re seeing less inflationary pressure on prices,” Steele said. “We think that this season Canadians can look forward to a competitively priced product at the stores, and we’re going to hopefully see some stability with that.”

Prices are set by retailers and they vary across the country.

For instance, a pound — which is less than half a kilogram — of frozen turkey could cost around $1.99 and between $2.49 and $2.99 for fresh turkey in Ontario, according to Steele.

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In B.C., the price can range from $6 to $8 per kilogram and higher if it’s a specialty locally grown bird, Veles said.

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