Politicians in St. Thomas put off a decision Monday night to launch a pilot program allowing backyard chickens amid concerns about the deadly avian flu.

City council backed a staff recommendation to defer the decision one year, pending more information about the highly contagious bird flu and the “considerable costs” and resources required to administer the city-wide program safely.

Coun. Steve Wookey said he supports a pilot project but agrees it makes sense to wait.

“If we say yes to this and somebody spent several thousand dollars on prepping their backyard, and all the things that go along with that, then six months from now there’s a bigger issue with avian flu and we shut it down, I think that’s doing a disservice to the project,” he told his colleagues.

Coun. Tara McCaulley called it a “tough decision”– noting she’s spoken to residents who are both for and against the program — but agrees deferring the vote is the right move.

Coun. Rose Gibson warned about the need for more stringent regulations under the proposed pilot program, saying residents would need a covered outdoor run – a fenced-in space attached to the chicken coop – and proper fencing to prevent droppings from infected birds from entering the chicken’s area.

Coun. Gary Clarke, the only councillor to voice his opposition to backyard chickens, was brief in his remarks. “I still think it’s a dumb idea and I would vote against it,” he said.

Ontario is the largest poultry producer in Canada, with much of the industry in Southwestern Ontario. As of late May, about 850,000 birds in the province have been destroyed due to the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus since the most recent outbreak began early last year, the latest data from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shows.

The disease can spread from birds to other animals, including household pets such as cats and dogs.

Several municipalities across Canada allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards. In Toronto, officials recently paused its pilot program because of concerns over avian flu outbreaks and costs.

The matter is expected to return to St. Thomas council next year.

cleon@postmedia.com

twitter.com/CalviatLFPress

By Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 06, 2023 at 15:03

This item reprinted with permission from   London Free Press   London, Ontario
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