A bird flu virus that is spreading across the US is fast becoming the nation’s worst outbreak, which has already killed more than 37 million chickens and turkeys and more deaths are expected next month as farmers spread across the Midwest. hunting extensively.
Under federal government guidance, if only one bird tests positive for the virus, farms must destroy entire commercial flocks to stop the spread. This is leading to disturbing scenes across rural America. In Iowa, millions of animals in giant barns suffocate in high temperatures or from toxic foam. In Wisconsin, queues of dump trucks took days to collect carcasses of birds and pile them on unused fields. Neighbors live with the smell of rotting birds.
The crisis is most damaging to egg-laying chickens and turkeys, the disease being largely propagated by migrating wild birds that flock over farms and leave tracked droppings in poultry houses. give. Perhaps this is how the virus infected egg operations in Iowa, which produce the liquid and powdered eggs that go into restaurant omelets or boxed cake mixes. Further north down that same migration path are the turkey farms of Minnesota, which supply everything from deli meats to submarine sandwiches to whole birdsong for the holidays.
Prices for such products are rising to a record high, adding to the fastest pace of US inflation in four decades. The flu-induced supply shortfalls also occur as world food prices reach new highs. From war in Ukraine to unfavorable crop seasons, it is throwing all supply chains into turmoil and exacerbating the crisis that has pushed millions of people into hunger since the start of the pandemic.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, here comes the bird flu,” said Karen Rispoli, egg market reporter at commodity researcher Urner Barry.
Government data showed wholesale egg prices touching a record high of $2.90 a dozen in April. According to Earner Barry, the whole turkey touched an all-time high of $1.47 per pound.
The last time bird flu hit the US was in 2015, it killed nearly 50 million animals by the end of the season and cost the federal government more than $1 billion dollars as it handled the killing and burial of birds. Is. At the time, the industry increased its biosecurity around poultry houses, installing sound cannons to repel wild birds, or even carwashes so that farm trucks would not carry contamination from farm to farm. Bring, so as not to repeat.
This time, even with that improved biosecurity, the industry has failed to prevent transmission from wild birds, said Michelle Krom, executive advisor to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. As a precaution, farmers have to go through a painstaking process of completely changing their clothes and shoes before entering the barn, and ensuring that all supplies and equipment are clean.
Yet the weather and migration patterns are making it easier for the virus to conquer this year. Rare spring snowstorms are originating in the Midwest and traveling up the East Coast, and cold, wet weather keeps the virus alive longer, helping it to spread. This year the flu is also more deadly than before. The deaths so far this season are tracking up from 37 million chickens and turkeys in previous outbreaks. There are more than 300 million birds in America’s egg-laying hens (chickens raised for meat, known as broilers, have not been affected as much).
“We all need to maintain a really high awareness that the environment is contaminated,” said veterinarian Beth Thompson of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The weather “needs to be warm and dry to kill the virus that is sitting there.”
America’s egg production center Iowa has been the most affected. One farm, Rembrandt Enterprises, decimated a massive flock of 5.3 million chickens starting in late March using a government-approved yet controversial method called Ventilation Shutdown Plus. The technique, which is being widely used to eliminate millions of chickens at a time during this outbreak, involves closing barns so that temperatures rise and the animals suffocate for hours. Turkeys can be killed by spraying fire extinguishing foam which causes them to suffocate.
Rembrandt did not respond to requests for comment.
Bird flu is also wreaking havoc in Canada, which has wiped out nearly two million birds. The virus has never been in multiple provinces at the same time.
“We’re worried. We’re definitely worried,” said Lisa Bishop-Spencer, a spokeswoman for Canadian Chicken Farmers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person involved in killing infected birds in Colorado has contracted the avian flu. The agency said the risk of bird flu spreading to humans remains low, even in this case. Flu that spreads from animals to humans is a concern because in rare instances, the result can be a pandemic.
Recovering from the crisis will not be easy. In 2015, it took more than a year for the egg industry to ramp back up, according to Maro Ibaraburu-Blanc, a research scientist at Iowa State University’s Egg Industry Center. This time, supplies may be affected for longer periods as farmers whose operations were affected by the virus may shift to cage-free production, which is a long-term trend in the industry, said Mark Jordan, a poultry analyst at LEAP Market Analytics. he said. ,
As long as large bird barns remain in vogue, large-scale outbreaks could hit the US poultry industry. And the trend is towards bigger.
“We continue to see the consolidation of facilities, with new facilities continuing to be built that are for several million birds,” said Egg Innovations Chief Executive Officer John Brunwell.
—With assistance from Jan Skerritt and Dominic Carey.
Copyright 2022 Bloomberg.