US bird flu death toll nears record excessive; Coping with virus type challenges

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A record variety of U.S. chickens and turkeys have died from this 12 months’s bird flu, as a pressure of the virus fought by farmers infects wild birds after which spreads the illness, poultry officers mentioned. mentioned.

More than 47 million birds died resulting from infectious illnesses and culling. That prompted export bans, decrease egg and turkey manufacturing and contributed to record costs for staples forward of the U.S. vacation season. The ache will compound the financial ache for customers struggling with rising inflation.

In 2015, the worst US outbreak killed 50.5 million birds, the worst animal well being occasion within the nation.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Chief Veterinary Officer Rosemary Sifford mentioned farmers are dealing with a subtype of the H5N1 virus that has continued by way of the summer time when hotter temperatures diminished bird flu.

A single species, referred to as the Goose/Guangdong breed, is spreading in Europe, he mentioned in an interview. Europe has been hit by its worst avian flu disaster, killing almost 50 million poultry.

According to Sifford, officers are discovering the wild bird species in a variety of untamed birds, akin to geese, and it seems to be a long-lived bird. He mentioned the chance of an infection may stay till the summer time of 2023 as they migrate.

The United States is monitoring wild birds for bird flu alongside 4 migration routes, often known as flyways, and plans to take action subsequent 12 months, up from the earlier two routes.

“This virus could also be current in wild birds for the foreseeable future,” Sifford mentioned. “It’s undoubtedly completely different.”

The outbreak has contaminated flocks in 42 states since February, greater than double the quantity from 2015, USDA information present. This summer time, infections have slowed, however not stopped like in 2015.

The persistence of the virus has shocked some producers, who’ve stepped up barn cleansing and safety because it started in 2015.

“Unfortunately, the issues we have performed have not been sufficient to guard us from excessive viral hundreds in wild bird populations,” Sifford mentioned.

RECORD TURKEY PRICES

Minnesota, the nation’s high turkey-producing state, contaminated two business flocks in late August with as much as three months of disease-free exercise, in accordance with the USDA. The state then noticed extra circumstances in September.

“To see a rise in August just isn’t what one would anticipate,” mentioned Ashley Kohls, govt director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

After an an infection, it takes about six months to decontaminate farms and end turkey manufacturing, Kohls mentioned.

Minnesota-based Hormel Foods Corp, proprietor of the Jennie-O Turkey Store model, mentioned it expects bird flu to scale back turkey manufacturing by way of March 2023.

“We’ve labored actually exhausting, however it’s nonetheless an issue,” Hormel CEO James Snee mentioned at a convention name final month.

Retail costs for recent boneless, skinless turkey breasts hit $6.70 a pound final month, up 112% from a 12 months in the past and 14% from the earlier record set in 2015, in accordance with the U.S. Farm Bureau.

According to the USDA, Turkey’s meat manufacturing is predicted to drop 6 % this 12 months from 2021 to five.2 billion kilos.

Faced with excessive feed and labor prices, US farmers in the reduction of on manufacturing as earnings fell. Turkey breast shares in chilly storage have reached record ranges this 12 months, in accordance with USDA knowledge.

According to Greg Gunthorpe, a turkey farmer in Indiana, grocers, on-line retailers and different consumers have been inspired to search for complete turkeys and breasts. Antibiotic-free turkey breasts are promoting for $7-9 per pound wholesale, in comparison with about $3 earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The turkey market proper now’s the craziest I’ve ever seen,” Gunthorpe mentioned.

Flock infections have triggered export restrictions on U.S. poultry, additional hurting producers. A significant purchaser, China, has blocked birds from all states with confirmed circumstances, and it’ll take longer to carry the bans, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council mentioned.

This month, China suspended poultry imports from Arkansas, the third-largest producer of chickens raised for meat, after the state reported its first an infection of the 12 months, USDA information present. State Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward mentioned Arkansas hopes to keep away from the illness.

“The virus has modified,” Ward mentioned. “Hopefully this virus is a kind of folks that may catch hearth in a 12 months and perhaps go quiet once more.”

(Reporting by Tom Polanzek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and David Gregorio)

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