(Adds details on banned products and sales)
By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The United States has suspended imports of live and raw poultry from the Canadian province of British Columbia due to an outbreak of bird flu virus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinary officer told Reuters on Monday.
The restrictions began on Dec. 4, the same day that Canada identified the virus as a “highly pathogenic” H5N2 strain, said John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinarian.
“It’s a temporary ban,” Clifford said in a telephone interview, adding that the ban will likely last several months.
Bird flu, or avian influenza, is an infectious viral disease of birds. Most bird flu viruses do not infect humans or pose safety risks when poultry products are properly handled and cooked.
Canada’s chief veterinary officer, Harpreet Kochhar, said on Monday that the United States had restricted imports of British Columbia birds and hatching eggs, poultry meat, eggs and egg products and animal byproducts.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said five British Columbia farms were infected with avian influenza, killing 80,000 turkeys and chickens so far. The birds on the farms that survived the flu are being destroyed.
The USDA does not “see any current risk to human health” in the United States due to the outbreak, Clifford said. The department is evaluating whether to dispatch an employee to Canada to take part in the response, he added.
Canada “invited us last week to send somebody if we wanted to,” Clifford said.
British Columbia exported live fowl and poultry products to the United States worth C$5.8 million ($5.05 million) in 2013, according to Statistics Canada.
Canada and Chile are the two biggest suppliers of imported poultry to the United States, said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council in Washington, D.C., while noting that 99 percent of the chicken eaten in the United States is hatched, raised and processed in the country.
“In the grand scheme of total consumption, products from those countries are miniscule,” Super said.
Ray Nickel, president of the B.C. Poultry Association, said farmers in the province mainly grow turkeys and chickens for domestic buyers.
South Korea, Hong Kong, South Africa, Mexico, Taiwan and Japan have also imposed varying bans on Canadian poultry products due to the outbreak.
Kochhar said officials had established restrictions on movement of captive birds, poultry products and feed within a zone around the infected farms. ($1 = 1.1476 Canadian dollars) (Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Leslie Adler and Diane Craft)