An outbreak of the highly pathogenic form of bird flu has been detected in the US Midwest and East Coast. According to Bloomberg, this does not pose an immediate threat to public health but is a significant concern to the agriculture industry.
The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a statement and confirmed the existence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry farms in two states, including a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky, and a flock of mixed-species birds in Fauquier County, Virginia.
Samples from two Kentucky flocks were tested at the Breathitt Veterinary Center Laboratory and samples from the affected Virginia flock were tested at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Harrisonburg Regional Animal Health Laboratory, both part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. The Virginia and Fulton County, Kentucky cases were confirmed at the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa. The Breathitt Veterinary Center Laboratory also obtained a non-negative avian influenza test result on the samples from a Webster County turkey flock, and NVSL confirmation is pending. -APHIS
Poultry farms in Kentucky and Virginia will be forced to cull flocks that have detected HPAI. So far, there have yet to be human cases of the virus.
APHIS is working closely with state animal health officials in Kentucky and Virginia on joint incident responses. State officials quarantined the affected premises, and birds on the properties will be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease. Depopulation is complete in Virginia. Birds from the flocks will not enter the food system. -APHIS
Tyson Foods released a statement about the continuing situation. They said its Kentucky farm where HPAI was detected is one of the thousands that raise chickens and won't impact overall supply. The company is taking steps to mitigate the spread of the highly pathogenic virus by "boosting biosecurity measures at other farms in the region, placing additional restrictions on visitors, and continuing to test all flocks before birds leave the farms."
"Tyson Foods' chicken products remain safe: the USDA confirms that avian influenza does not pose a food safety risk to consumers in poultry that is properly prepared and cooked," according to the statement.
In January, the bird flu was first discovered in a wild flock of birds in South Carolina and then detected weeks later in a commercial turkey farm in Dubois County, Indiana.
During the 2014-15 outbreak, more than 50 million chickens and turkeys were culled in the US and cost the economy around $3.3 billion in losses. If there's a repeat of mass cullings, chicken prices could continue steamrolling higher. Already, retail prices for boneless breast on a per pound basis is around $3.726.
With food prices at decade highs and could hit record highs in the coming months, let's hope a major bird flu outbreak is not ahead because there would be a lot of angry Americans who couldn't bear paying higher prices for chicken nuggets or wings.