Farms that raise turkeys and chickens for meat and eggs are on high alert and implementing biosecurity measures in anticipation of a repeat of the 2015 bird flu outbreak that killed 50 million birds across 15 states and cost the federal government nearly $1 billion.
The renewed fear stems from the discovery of the virus infecting a commercial turkey flock in Indiana on Feb. 9 as well as a flu outbreak at a commercial chicken farm in Kentucky. The flock’s 29,000 turkeys were slaughtered to halt the spread of the virus.
The poultry industry and government officials say they have plans to more quickly halt the spread of the virus based on lessons learned in 2015, but they are urging caution due to the virus strain’s potential for fatality in commercial poultry. Prices for eggs, turkey, and chicken may increase, while availability may decrease, if enough birds on enough farms become infected.
The US assures farmers and consumers that it will leverage lessons learned from the 2015 outbreak to quickly contain the disease.
“With a confirmed case of US Poultry & Egg Association, this is definitely a high-risk period,” said Dr. Denise Heard, a poultry veterinarian and vice president of research for the US Poultry & Egg Association. “I am confident that we can improve our response to this situation, and I am crossing my fingers that this is an isolated incident; however, I would hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
According to health officials, no human cases of avian influenza have been detected in the United States, and the disease does not currently pose a public health threat.
The 2015 outbreak resulted in the slaughter of 33 million egg-laying hens in Iowa, the leading egg producer in the country, and 9 million birds in Minnesota, the leading turkey producer in the country, with smaller outbreaks in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. For months, the disease drove up egg and turkey prices across the country, with the cost of eggs increasing by 61 percent at one point and boneless, skinless turkey breasts increasing by 75 percent between May and July 2015.
Producers who want to be eligible for government aid in the event of a disaster must keep a biosecurity plan on hand that is always up to date. There’s a 14-point biosecurity plan set up by the USDA for farmers, which is audited every year and looked over twice a year, says Sato.
People who grow eggs in Iowa, a state with 49 million chickens, are working with state and federal officials to keep the disease out of their flocks, says Kevin Stiles, the executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association and the Iowa Egg Council, both of which are part of the Iowa Poultry Association.
“Biosecurity best practices are being talked about openly by the IPA, and they are also offering surveillance tests.” We believe that our farmers are ready and able to manage their flocks, he said.