By Margaret Friedenauer

The Fraser Valley in southern British Columbia is one of the leading poultry producing areas in North America. But a recent outbreak of bird flu is keeping Fraser Valley birds off the U.S. market this holiday season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has halted the import of poultry products from or through British Columbia into the United States. The Skagway police and municipality notified residents of the ban over the weekend. (See the official import alert here.)

The ban was issued last week because of a recent outbreak of avian influenza at commercial turkey farms in British Columbia. Five B.C. turkey and chicken producers in the Fraser Valley have been quarantined because of the outbreak. More than 140,000 birds have been destroyed. Five other countries have also banned chicken products from all of Canada, according to the CBC.

Alaska’s state veterinarian, Dr. Bob Gerlak says the strain of avian flu affecting the B.C. poultry produces is called H5N2. He says it does not generally affect humans, but it is detrimental to other birds, including wild birds. That’s why the ban includes any hunter-harvested or wild birds from the province.

The order from the USDA says any fresh or unprocessed avian products originating or traveling through British Columbia are banned. Gerlak says it’s up to the officials at border crossing stations whether to permit Yukon-bought poultry into the U.S. if it’s traveled through British Columbia. He says those traveling with poultry products should take steps to document where they bought their chicken, turkey, duck or Cornish game hens to avoid having it confiscated at the U.S. Border. Processed or cooked poultry products are not banned.

The outbreak in British Columbia is relatively small considering there are more than 500 commercial chicken and turkey farms in the Fraser Valley. Gerlak says the ban will help control the spread of the disease to other farms or into the United States.

Alaska routinely tests for avian influenza. Domestic farm birds are tested if any illness or deaths are reported. All birds are tested at the annual state fair in Palmer. Gerlak says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Fish and Game continue to test wild birds.

Canadian health officials say the virus does not pose a risk to consumers if poultry meat is property handled and cooked. No human has become ill from an H5N2 avian influenza outbreak. The strain of avian influenza that generally affects humans is called H5N1.