Neighbours kept in the dark on virus outbreak

Neighbours of a farm in Clearwater County, where pigs were found to have the H1N1 virus, are concerned they weren’t told about the situation by the government.

Neighbours of a farm in Clearwater County, where pigs were found to have the H1N1 virus, are concerned they weren’t told about the situation by the government.

Ron Othen lives a couple of kilometres down the road from the Van Ginkel pig farm, where the pigs tested positive for having the H1N1 flu virus.

The farm is around 90 kilometres west of Red Deer in a part of Clearwater County called Beaver Flats, along Township Road 40-1, just up from Range Road 5-5. Othen and his wife Jean live close enough to the farm to smell the pig manure in the summer.

“Nobody from the health department came and told us,” Othen said. “I think we should have been notified.”

He was concerned about how near the farm is to his property and how the virus could spread around.

“I don’t like it. That’s getting pretty close to home,” Othen said.

His wife Jean said the couple raises 25 turkeys in a pen and she wondered if anything could spread to them.

On Friday, Alberta government officials culled 500 of the more than 2,000 hogs at the farm, where the new H1N1 virus was detected.

It wasn’t done because the animals were sick, but to ease the overcrowding on the farm, said Dr. Gerald Hauer, the province’s chief veterinarian, on Saturday.

Officials said the quarantine has meant the producer couldn’t ship the hogs to market and so the farm had reached maximum capacity.

The Van Ginkels came to Alberta from Holland in 2003, with the dream of building a farm, where they could raise their family.

John Middel, a friend of Arnold and Alida Van Ginkel, read a statement prepared by the family on Saturday.

“Two weeks ago, our dream turned into a nightmare after it was found out that our hogs were exposed to the H1N1 virus,” Middel read, outside the gate of the family’s farm Saturday night.

He said the Van Ginkel’s called the vet once they saw some of their pigs were sick, they have co-operated with the government and quarantined their barn to ensure the virus would not spread. “Our first priority has been to protect our family, our neighbours and our industry.”

All of the family members have been tested — including the six children in the family — and they don’t currently have the virus.

Orange signs reading “Stop! Biosecurity Zone” are now posted outside the farm.

Dr. Jim Clark, the national manager for disease control for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s animal health division, told the Canadian Press that they believe the pigs were infected by people, but the evidence is circumstantial. It is believed the virus was introduced to the farm by a carpenter doing work there in mid-April, who had recently returned from Mexico. CFIA was notified about the problem on April 28.

Lyle Tyson and his wife Linda live less than half a kilometre up the road from the farm and can see it from their yard.

“I think (officials) should have let us know, being this close,” said Linda, on Saturday. She had been curious because she had seen government vehicles going by the past few days.

The first the Tysons heard of the Van Ginkel farm having pigs infected by H1N1 flu was when they turned on their television Saturday night, shortly after a press conference was held outside the gate of the farm.

Linda often takes walks, along the road by the farm, to get some fresh air and exercise. But she said she isn’t worried about catching the flu.

“They seem like nice people. I feel sorry for them,” said Lyle, who was raised on a farm himself and knows the hardship and hard work that comes with it.

Although some neighbours spoke about the stench the farm has brought to that part of the county, Linda said it hasn’t bothered her. “They don’t bother us and we don’t bother them.”

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