An avian flu outbreak has outworn its welcome and poses a substantial threat to poultry and egg production in the United States.
Although most outbreaks of avian flu last only a few months, the current one has lasted more than a year and is already considered to be the deadliest on record, killing roughly 58 million farm-raised birds since last February.
With an almost 100% mortality rate among chickens and high transmissibility, the avian flu has ravaged poultry and egg markets, resulting in sky-high egg prices and more expensive turkeys this past Thanksgiving, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While people are certainly feeling the impact on their pocketbooks, that could be the extent of the damage as far as humans are concerned, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noting a low public health risk at present.
“Right now, the H5N1 bird flu situation remains primarily an animal health issue. However, CDC is watching this situation closely and taking routine preparedness and prevention measures in case this virus changes to pose a greater human health risk,” reads a CDC post on the matter.
Still, the disease’s lethality in commercial birds has forced some of the bigger industry players to invest in security measures to guard their flocks.
“We’re fighting an epic battle,” said J.T. Dean, president of Versova, one of the country’s biggest egg producers, speaking with The Wall Street Journal. “We have to be perfect.”
The current outbreak is primarily being driven by wild birds, and Dean told the WSJ that even a gust of wind carrying bits of contaminated feces into a barn vent could lay waste to a flock. However, it can also be introduced by workers bringing it in on the bottom of their shoes.
Bigger producers have adapted to the situation the best they can, adopting new procedures for washing and disinfecting vehicles that carry feed, updating ventilation systems, having workers wear jumpsuits and booties, installing sound cannons and motion detectors to shoo away wild birds, and netting nearby places where wild birds could gather.
The Dallas Express reached out to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the USDA, and asked what practical steps smaller bird owners could take to prevent the spread of the disease.
“The most important thing for all bird owners right now is to practice good biosecurity, including maintaining a separation between wild and domestic birds,” replied Lyndsay Cole, APHIS’s assistant director of public affairs. “Good biosecurity keeps flocks safe by keeping pests and diseases away from healthy birds.”
“We have a Defend the Flock education program that offers free tools and resources to help everyone who works with or handles poultry follow proper biosecurity practices. These practices will help keep your birds healthy and reduce the risk of avian influenza and other infectious diseases,” she added.
However, egg prices are still hovering around record highs, and there is disagreement over whether the avian flu is the primary driver.
Emily Metz, president and CEO of the industry group American Egg Board, told The Daily Mail, “When you’re looking at fuel costs go up, and you’re looking at feed costs go up as much as 60 percent, labor costs, packaging costs, all of that … those are much much bigger factors than bird flu for sure.”
Yes, we have been hearing about “bird flu” for months. Notice the price of eggs? However, it seems that this “bird flu” was only affecting laying hens, not meat birds. Strange.
Then we found out that even home owners with small flocks had hens that would not lay. Using online chats many found out that apparently the commercial chicken feed was the problem. Change the feed and instantly the birds were laying again.
I am beginning to suspect that all is not according to Hoyle and that real investigations need to be made.