Avian Flu tainted milk edges closer to Canada, or is it already here?


Avian flu, also known as Bird flu, H5N1 or HPAI, continues to be found in cow’s milk and has been confirmed in yet more American states, this time in Michigan and Idaho, the locations inching closer to Canada.

Last week, the USDA found traces of avian flu in Kansas cows’ milk after a month of reports of mysterious illness in dairy cows in New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Idaho and Ohio. By the time sick cows were first reported to the USDA in late February, it had spread to 15 herds in the Texas Panhandle.

The USDA has not ruled out the possibility cows are spreading it between themselves. It also considers wild birds as a source of infection. Therefore, it is suggested to limit cows’ access to anywhere where they might come in contact with wild birds, or anywhere outside. 

On March 20, 2024, a baby goat was reported sick with avian flu in Minnesota. The goat lived on a chicken farm, where an outbreak had previously been reported.

There are now reports of cats also being infected with the same virus.

In the Ag Web Farm Journal, American Dairy vet Fred Gingrich said “We understand right now that the primary impact of this disease is economic. These herds lose about 20 percent of their milk production for 14 to 21 days, which is a huge economic loss.” He notes that cows struck with bird flu recover, and if the cow doesn’t regain full milk producing capacity, the cow can always be sold for beef.

Before it was confirmed that the mystery illness was avian flu, there was talk of selling the sick cows to slaughter because, according to HighGround Dairy, “Beef prices remain above average, and the immediate paycheck of a slaughtered cow is more appealing than keeping a very low-producing animal in the herd.”

What does this mean for Canada?

Numerous reports from media like The Guardian and Vox have pointed to factory farms being breeding grounds for diseases, and have specifically spoken to avian influenza spreading incessantly on poultry farms. Though underreported, factory farms have also been linked to harboring this disease and being the reason for wild bird populations’ massive amounts of deaths.

Right here at home in Canada, we also have factory farms. Most of our meat, dairy and eggs come from factory farm settings. With the disease spreading so quickly, we shouldn’t be surprised when it comes over the border.

Avian influenza really is just the start of it. Are we ready for more outbreaks or even prepared to deal with this one? Cows, goats, chickens and now even cats have already contracted the virus. Is Canada testing the millions of animals on farms used for meat and dairy?

Where is the end? 

A more plant-based food system means less factory farms & less outbreaks.
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