Most influenza A viruses affect avian species, and the most economically damaging are those pathogenic to poultry. However, H5 and H7 sub-types of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have potential to infect mammals including humans and people’s perceptions are increasingly focussed on direct danger of these HPAI viruses to human health. Outbreaks of HPAI caused by H5 or H7 sub-types are now so widespread and common that real cost to poultry and poultry owners is largely overlooked.

Many governments compensate their farmers for value of birds lost to HPAI but cost to the affected farmer – rarely to blame for the outbreak – does not stop there. Clean-up and disinfection costs, together with waiting time until farms can be re-stocked and new birds are ready for market, are horrendous and way beyond the scope of individual farmers unless they are comprehensively insured.

It has taken a generally low profile H7N3 sub-type in Canada to demonstrate the plight of farmers when no help is forthcoming from local and central government. Three months after H7N3 hit a single Canadian poultry farm in Saskatchewan at the end of September 2007, the affected farmer and owner is still feeling fall-out with apparently no assistance from either provincial or national governments.

Costs of cleaning up after outbreaks should not be left to affected farmers alone, say Saskatchewan’s poultry groups. They pooled resources under the banner of the Saskatchewan Poultry Industry Emergency Management Team (SPIEMT) and raised 100,000 Canadian dollars (CA$) to help the affected farmer in southern Saskatchewan with the prohibitive costs of cleaning and disinfection after H7N3 in late September/October 2007.

Affected farmer James Glen owns Pedigree Poultry located between the communities of Regina Beach and Lumsden. His farm was quarantined and 50,000 birds destroyed after H7N3 was confirmed. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CIFA) supervised the culling and burial during October 2007.

Mr Glen told Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) on 17 December how he would like to get back into business but needs help to do so from the federal and provincial governments. He confirmed what many other poultry farmers around the world know to their cost – how the experience is hard on the owner’s family and those families working for the affected business.

Canadian government programmes compensate livestock producers for market value of animals lost to ‘depopulation’, as well as costs related to cull and burial, but not those of clean-up and disinfection.

“The Health of Animals Act assists farmers, to some degree, to reclaim some costs from the destruction of their animals,” said Joy Smith, general manager of Saskatchewan Egg Producers talking to Alberta Farmer. “But that's not where the eradication process ends. Ensuring that the infected farm is appropriately cleaned and disinfected is critical to ensuring confidence in both government and industry biosecurity systems, and should [therefore] be a shared responsibility,” she claims.

Mr Glen told CBC how the stress of trying to achieve a quick clean-up intensified when he found out that other countries were banning imports of poultry from anywhere in Canada. “It's magnified the responsibility we feel to get the clean-up done,” he said. The CA$100,000 raised by Saskatchewan's poultry industry is clearly welcome but the final cost will be double that amount. Mr Glen cannot pay it all by himself, and he has been asking the federal and provincial governments of Canada for assistance supported by the poultry industry which says it cannot afford this kind of payment.

“The grant from SPIEMT was an ad-hoc measure to help the affected farmer right away,” SPIEMT co-chair Clinton Monchuk, CEO of the Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan told Alberta Farmer. “We hope that in future, we can work with both provincial and federal governments to come to a co-operative approach to ensure that animal disease emergencies are effectively dealt with, from start to finish.”

“We don't feel that it is our responsibility to fund this,” Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister, Bob Bjornerud, told CBC News, “When they [Fraser Valley] had their outbreak, far bigger than ours, the provincial government in British Colombia did not pay anything towards it either.” Mr Bjornerud says that he is willing to talk about it and perhaps help lobby the federal government for future compensation. There was no comment from the federal government.

According to Alberta Farmer, SPIEMT says the clean-up and disinfection should be complete by the end of January 2008. Only then will Mr Glen be allowed to re-stock his barns with new birds. These birds will not mature and bring in revenue from sales until summer 2008.