USDA Culls Millions of Hens

Egg laying hens
Egg laying hens | Image by KARRASTOCK/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is culling 1.6 million egg-laying hens at a Texas ranch after discovering an avian flu outbreak.

The facility, operated by Cal-Maine Foods, reported avian flu in its flock on April 4, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. An additional 337,000 pullets, young hens that are not egg-bearing yet, are also being put down. Bird flu has been detected in dairy cattle in the Panhandle recently as well, and the first case of transmission of the virus to a human in the United States was recently recorded in Texas.

Consumers are being warned to handle eggs with care. Epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding posted on X that consumers should fully cook eggs to prevent exposure to the virus. Commonly known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, the virus is lethal to birds but is not regarded as deadly to humans or cattle.

However, officials are concerned that the virus could mutate after infecting humans and become transmissible from person to person. Currently, the virus is believed not to be transmissible between people.

USDA is also cautioning consumers not to consume raw milk as the virus has been discovered in mammary tissue and milk in dairy cattle. The virus is not expected to survive pasteurization. The federal agency generally dissuades people from consuming raw milk, though it is worth noting that all milk sold in stores is pasteurized.

Cal-Maine is the largest egg producer in the United States and has been at the forefront of some controversy. In conjunction with other egg producers, the company was accused of orchestrating a price-fixing scheme between 2004 and 2008, decreasing egg production in order to artificially elevate egg prices. In December 2023, a jury ordered the company to pay $53 million in fines.

Avian flu has been detected in commercial flocks in Texas, South Dakota, and Michigan. It has also been found in backyard flocks in Texas, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, and North Carolina, according to data from USDA.

The virus, which is spread by wild migratory birds, is commonly found in various species of ducks and has been detected in hawks in several states. The CDC recommends that people avoid handling dead wild birds and wear protective apparel when dealing with cattle that may be infected. Symptoms in cattle are lethargy and a reduction in milk production.

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