In the wake of disease specialists’ warnings that wild birds are likely spreading a particularly dangerous type of avian flu throughout the nation, poultry farmers in the United States are strengthening safety procedures for their communities.
Following the discovery of highly virulent bird flu on a retail turkey farm in Indiana on Wednesday, poultry imports from South Korea and Mexico were barred from entering the U.S.
The epidemic has placed the manufacturing sector in the United States on edge when labor shortages boost food inflation.
The illness is already common in Europe and has spread to Africa, Asia, and Canada. Still, the epidemic in Indiana, located on a migratory bird migration route, has caused special concern among U.S. poultry and poultry products producers.
In 2015, a severe bird-flu epidemic in the United States killed approximately 50 million birds, most of which were turkeys and egg-laying hens in the Midwest.
According to the United States government, the US is the world’s biggest producer of poultry meat and the second-biggest exporter of poultry meat from the United States.
“Everyone is really on edge because we know what may happen, and we don’t want a recurrence of what happened last time,” said Denise Heard, vice president of research for the United States Poultry & Egg Association, an industry trade association.
According to spokesperson Diana Souder, Perdue Poultry Company has ceased in-person visits to farms to prevent the spread of the illness. A proven case of the disease in the nation, according to Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, increased the danger for everyone.
“It’s past time to raise the ante for our cattle farmers,” Naig said. Disease specialists believe a wild bird brought the H5N1 virus, which may be transferred to people, to Indiana from the East Coast, where authorities have verified that wild ducks were contaminated with the strain. The virus has been identified in wild ducks on the East Coast.
The United States Department of Agriculture referred to the minimal illness risk to individuals as “low disease risk.”
What U.S. chicken producers are doing to protect from bird flu
On Monday, Tyson Foods said it had increased biosecurity precautions at its East Coast plants due to wild bird diseases. The business announced this during an earnings conference call. It said that it had decreased the number of farm excursions and took extra time to wash cars.
According to the latest research, experts believe that wild birds from the East Coast may have interbred with birds that fly along a migratory route known as the Mississippi Flyway, which contains Indiana and significant poultry-producing states such as Mississippi and Alabama.
To better trace the illness, the United States Department of Agriculture stated on Friday that it would extend surveillance of wild birds to include the Mississippi Flyway and different migratory channels, the Central Flyway, which covers Nebraska.
“It may very well be anywhere in the United States – from the East Coast to the West Coast,” Heard said. Other retail chicken flocks may get sick as wild birds migrate along flyways.
However, Carol Cardona, an avian health expert at the University of Minnesota, said manufacturers had improved safety precautions since 2015.
One significant difference is that farms often require individuals who enter chicken barns to remove their boots and clothes to avoid getting dirty things such as excrement or feathers.
In Cardona’s words, “we know that the virus may be just outside the door.” Since October 2021, more than 700 bird flu outbreaks have occurred in Europe, with more than 20 nations being afflicted by the virus. Hundreds of thousands of thousands of birds have been slaughtered.
The government of the United Kingdom said that the nation was experiencing its worst-ever bird flu season, while Italy had the largest number of outbreaks, with more than 300 cases. A considerable number of cases have been reported in Hungary, Poland, and France.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the illness struck the United States when chicken supplies were limited due to high demand and labor shortages at meat processing factories.
According to government statistics, frozen chicken stocks in the United States were down 14 percent from a year before the end of December, when turkey stockpiles were down 23 percent from a year ago.
The poultry farms in a 10-kilometer control area surrounding the contaminated farm in Dubois County, Indiana, are being tested by authorities in the state. On Thursday, the state said that all tests were negative but repeated every week.
Those negative tests haven’t made James Watson, the state veterinarian in Mississippi, the fifth-largest chicken meat producer in the U.S., anymore at ease.
He predicted that wild ducks would continue to transmit the virus until the weather warms up enough for them to migrate to northern nesting areas. “Even if they can repair this without causing any additional problems, we will remain on high alert,” Watson added.