GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Avian influenza was dubbed the “fowl plaque’ in the 1800s when the disease was first discovered.
According to Cobank, infections have been have found in poultry in the United States for the past century. There was a major increase of infections globally in the 1980s and 1990s. The virus started to become a substantial threat to the poultry business.
In recent years, the worst outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza that the U.S. has seen was in 2014-2015. The outbreak hurt U.S. poultry producers because they were not able to send import from other countries because nations like China has restricted imports. The 2015 outbreak depopulated 43.2 million laying hens and 7.3 million turkeys. The recovery costs were extremely high at a price tag of $3.3 billion. The supplies of turkeys and eggs shrank and prices for these items hit the roof.
What is avian flu?
PetMD said the avian influenza, or bird flu, is caused by influenza that affects the lungs and air ways. The virus can potentially spread to humans and can make person sick. If a bird in a farmer’s flock has been infected, it is important to take the necessary precautions to keep the illness from spreading to other birds or people. Because it can infect humans, if the disease is discovered in the United States a farmer is required to report the illness to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recently bans have been placed in Africa, Asia and Europe because the avian flu had spread in those countries.
Symptoms of AI comprise of absence of appetite, breathing problems, swelling of the head, discharge from the eyes, diarrhea, and depression. Sometimes birds will not show any symptoms and unfortunately could die suddenly. It is important to manage an outbreak if one rears its ugly head because the mortality rate among birds for bird flu is extremely high.
According to the CDC, since 2003, the virus has hit high mortality rates in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa. The virus can be transmitted through nasal discharges and stool of the birds. It does not matter the type of bird, any of them can be infected with the virus such as wild birds, domestic or even pet birds. Treatment options vary on which strain of the virus a bird can have. If a bird has been infected, they should be isolated from the flock and humans. A veterinarian should be called immediately.
The avian virus has become common around the world. In 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization deemed the countries of Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam to be endemic for avian flu. There has been a vaccine that was developed to prevent the virus, however, the success of the vaccine in birds is questionable. The producer must keep exposure down to a minimum, so any illnesses do not spread among a flock.
Effects on the poultry industry
Since the last outbreak in 2015, poultry production had increased by 2 percent each year from 2016 to 2020. Producers in the poultry business must be aware of animal illnesses that could spread throughout production. During the past year, the hardest areas that have been hit by the virus are the turkey and egg manufacturers. The feed for chickens to lay the eggs is very expensive and could slow the rebuilding of the population.
If the U.S. has smaller flocks, then the supply for eggs will increase. As a result, higher egg prices will arise, and smaller amounts of eggs will be purchased. During recent weeks, the price of tom breast meat has reached $6.50 a pound and simultaneously breast meat in cold storage decreased to just 43 million pounds.
Safety stocks began restoring again to some extent during May. By the end of May, turkey supply had increased by 7 percent since the last year even though slaughtering worsened by 1.5 percent. Producers of reacted to the dreary tom markets in 2021 by shifting some production to hens. These producers are attempting to overcome the challenges of the exposure to avian flu by growing for fewer days. The turkeys are unable to gain much weight using this process and that will result in a smaller supply of large turkeys. There is a much smaller margin of breast meat coming from those turkeys, this also adds to the high demand for labor. This will result in higher costs for deli turkey meat.
“A smaller national layer (egg) flock means a smaller egg supply in coming months, higher egg prices, and fewer egg consumed,” said Brian Earnest, CoBank’s lead animal protein economist.
CoBank adds that before this year’s HPAI outbreaks, poultry values had substantially increased. The AI outbreaks led to a further tightening of market conditions.
For U.S. poultry exports though, last year saw $5.9 billion in exports, CoBank reported, adding that it could reach a record amount for 2022. Also, exporters are vulnerable to trade restrictions resulting from HPAI outbreaks. CoBank also notes, however, that markets appear more favorable to U.S. broiler meat this year.
“Fortunately for U.S. poultry exporters, the current world views on HPAI trade restrictions have relaxed since the last major outbreak in 2014 and 2015,” Earnest said. “Rather than a blanket ban, trade partners set new strictions at county, state or regional levels because outbreaks had become commonplace globally, and not coincidentally, because politicians across the globe were concerned about rapidly escalating food prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”