Science & Tech

The Bird Flu Epidemic Is Causing Poultry Prices to Soar. How Bad Will It Get?

chickens bird flu

The largest epidemic of hen flu in seven years has led to the destruction of practically 13 million chickens and turkeys.


Inflation is not the one factor driving up your grocery retailer invoice: Outbreaks of hen flu throughout the East Coast and Midwest have compelled poultry farmers to kill practically 13 million birds since February.

The epidemic may trigger hen, turkey and egg costs to soar within the coming months.

After circulating for months in Asia and Europe, extremely pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in industrial and yard farms in at the very least 16 states, in accordance to the US Division of Agriculture. With no therapy for the fast-acting and deadly an infection, farmers are compelled to cull lots of of hundreds — typically hundreds of thousands — of birds that will have been uncovered to verify the unfold of the illness. 

No people have examined optimistic within the US but, however the financial toll may very well be main: A large 15-state outbreak in 2015 resulted within the killing of practically 50 million chickens and turkeys, costing the poultry trade greater than $1.5 billion and inflicting egg costs to practically double.

Here is what you want to know in regards to the present hen flu outbreak, together with how the virus is transmitted, what the outbreak means for shoppers and if it poses a menace to people.

What’s hen flu?

Bird flu is brought on by avian influenza Kind A viruses, which unfold naturally amongst waterfowl and may infect wild birds, home poultry and different animals, although hardly ever people.

There are greater than a dozen strains of hen flu, that are categorised as both “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic,” relying on their skill to unfold illness and kill poultry. 

The pressure bombarding the US proper now, Eurasian H5N1, is taken into account extremely pathogenic.

How is hen flu transmitted?

The principal supply of an infection is thru migratory waterfowl, akin to geese and geese.  “They get infected but don’t get sick,” Denise Derrer, public data director for the Indiana State Board of Animal Well being, instructed CNET. “Then they shed the virus in their droppings or wherever the land.” 

Canadian geese


Which means the unfold may peak in a couple of weeks, when spring migration reaches its excessive level, and will not abate till June, when migratory birds settle into their summer time breeding grounds.

How the virus will get from barn to barn remains to be not totally clear, although. That makes it onerous to get a grip on the state of affairs, in accordance to Dr. Yuko Sato, a professor at Iowa State’s division of veterinary diagnostic and manufacturing animal drugs.

“There’s no concluded study on how it’s coming in,” Sato instructed NPR. “We can identify some weak links — for example, people tracking it in.” 

The place have hen flu outbreaks been detected?

The present pressure of H5N1 was first reported in Asia and Europe. Within the UK, eggs can not be labeled free-range as a result of hens have been cooped up for months to keep away from an infection.

For the reason that USDA confirmed the primary US case in a wild duck in South Carolina in mid-January, infections have been reported in industrial farms and yard flocks in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

chickens bird flu

The presence of avian influenza at an egg farm in Palmyra, Wisconsin, compelled producers to destroy practically 3 million chickens.

Scott Olson/Getty Photos

In consequence, an estimated 12.6 million chickens and turkeys have been or will quickly be “depopulated,” or killed, with extra infections detected practically each day. Among the many worst outbreaks:

  • An outbreak at a poultry farm in Wisconsin this month will lead to 2.7 million egg-laying chickens being killed. 
  • In Iowa, the US’ high poultry state, HPAI detected in a industrial flock resulted within the destruction of 5.3 million egg-laying chickens. One other latest outbreak led to the culling of just about 50,000 turkeys.
  • Tyson Meals had to cull about 240,000 chickens in Kentucky final month after avian influenza was present in a industrial farm.

Is hen flu harmful to people?

Human an infection is uncommon, with fewer than 900 circumstances reported since 2003, in accordance to the World Well being Group. Most have been amongst folks working instantly with contaminated birds.

Even when an contaminated hen wound up at your native grocery store, avian influenza is just not a foodborne illness, so that you could not contract it from consuming contaminated poultry. 

bird flu

Scott Olson/Getty Photos

As of March 7, the US Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention reported that the present H5N1 hen flu state of affairs “is primarily an animal well being situation” with no human infections within the US.

However H5N1 has a really excessive mortality fee, and the longer and bigger the wave of outbreaks, the upper the possibilities it may mutate right into a pressure that’s extra infectious to people. So US well being officers are intently monitoring the state of affairs. 

The CDC has additionally produced a candidate vaccine virus as a precaution.

What occurred over the last main hen flu outbreak?

Between December 2014 and June 2015, the primary US hen flu epidemic led to greater than 50 million chickens and turkeys being destroyed in what the USDA known as “the largest poultry health disaster in US history.”

One in 12 turkeys died from both the virus or being culled, in accordance to Gro Intelligence, together with one in eight egg-laying hens. Eighty p.c of the birds — some 39 million — had been euthanized between mid-April and mid-Could 2015 alone, principally in Midwestern states. 

chickens bird flu

Bruno Vincent/Getty Photos

Prices rapidly soared: Within the first 5 weeks of the epidemic, wholesale hen breast costs elevated 17% domestically, in accordance to the USDA’s Financial Analysis Service, and remained inflated for years.

The common price of a dozen eggs in New York was 60% larger within the latter half of 2015 than it was a yr prior. And exports plummeted sharply as quite a few nations imposed import bans on US poultry.

How is the present epidemic affecting costs?

Rising inflation, provide chain points and labor shortages have already triggered meat costs to rise throughout the board. However the hen flu outbreaks are including a premium on poultry: Between Feb. 18 and March 18, the wholesale worth of broiler chickens shot up practically 20%, whereas the worth of pork solely rose about 4% and beef really grew to become 3% cheaper.

How precisely outbreaks will have an effect on pricing is determined by which sorts of birds are hit hardest — egg-laying hens or birds raised for meat, says Grady Ferguson, a senior analysis analyst at Gro Intelligence. 



However issues over provide disruptions “is keen on marketer’s minds,” in accordance to the USDA’s most up-to-date weekly market evaluation, particularly with Easter lower than a month away. Final week, the wholesale worth for a dozen eggs rose 10 cents, to $1.60, and it is anticipated to preserve climbing.

Biochemist Henry Niman has been mapping the places of Eurasian H5N1 circumstances throughout the US.

“I think the number of the birds [killed] could be in the same ballpark” because the 2015 epidemic, Niman instructed CNET. “And I think price increases will be comparable, too.” 

How dangerous may the hen flu epidemic get?

That is the primary main outbreak of HPAI within the continental US in seven years.

“If you look at the 2015 situation, at this point in the year there are a lot more wild birds now over a much wider area,” Niman stated. “There’s more outbreaks already. It’s going to get much worse than it is now.”

Not like throughout the 2015 epidemic, outbreaks have reached the Atlantic Flyway — a significant north-south migratory hall that stretches down the Atlantic Coast from Greenland to South America — and reached birds within the DelMarVa peninsula. 

chickens bird flu


Douglas Sacha

Poultry trade representatives say they’re imposing strict protocols to management the unfold of the virus, together with limiting foot site visitors on farms, avoiding the sharing of kit, closing up any holes in barns and ensuring water and feed are lined and contaminant-free.

However biochemist Niman says it will not be sufficient.

“This is just a little skirmish — the major migration season hasn’t even hit yet,” Niman stated. “The farms are gonna be carpet-bombed in a few weeks. I don’t think they’re gonna be able to control it, even with what they’ve learned.”

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