Canadian officials have ordered the slaughter of around 19 million chickens and turkeys in Fraser Valley, British Columbia, in an attempt to halt the spread of avian influenza.

The cull, which will affect around 80% of the province’s poultry producers, became necessary after the disease spread beyond a controlled hot-zone surrounding the first infected farms. Last week the disease spread to two farms outside the zone, and within days the number of infected farms rose to 18, many of which were outside the control zone.

Jim Clarke, a spokesman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said officials were struggling to catch up with the spread of the disease and a mass slaughter is the only realistic way to stop its spread, reported the Associated Press.

Four of British Columbia’s poultry groups, BC Chicken Growers Association, BC Broiler Hatching Egg Producers, BC Egg Producers and BC Turkey Producers, said they supported the plans.

“Our main goal is to stamp out avian influenza and rebuild our industry,” said Ray Nickel, president of the BC Poultry Committee. “Although these measures are drastic, we feel they are necessary to eradicate the disease among affected flocks. We will continue to work together with the CFIA and the provincial and federal government to implement these plans.” 

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The British Columbia poultry industry has already lost C$10m (US$7.6m) to date due to avian influenza and the depopulation plan is expected to cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars. Poultry producers and processors have appealed to the provincial and federal governments for financial assistance to help the industry recover.