Chicken and turkey farmers fight to protect birds from flu

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FILE – In this July 23, 2015 file photo, Greg Langmo poses at one of his turkey farms near Litchfield, Minnesota. Nearly 7 million chickens and turkeys in 13 states have been killed this year after contracting bird flu, prompting authorities and farmers to recognize that, despite their best efforts, preventing the disease from infecting poultry proves incredibly difficult. State and federal authorities are hoping the disease won’t spread as widely as a 2015 outbreak that killed an estimated 50 million chickens and turkeys, driving up egg and meat prices. (AP Photo/Jim Mone File)

PA

Nearly 7 million chickens and turkeys in 13 states have been killed this year due to bird flu, prompting authorities and farmers to recognize that, despite their best efforts, preventing the disease from infecting poultry is incredibly difficult.

The spread of the disease is largely blamed on the droppings of wild birds, such as ducks and geese, which often show no signs of disease. But studies suggest the virus can be tracked in secure chicken coops and turkeys to equipment, workers, mice, small birds and even dust particles.

Infected wild birds have been found in at least 21 states, and the virus has been circulating in migrating waterfowl in Europe and Asia for nearly a year.

State and federal officials are hoping the disease won’t spread as widely as during a 2015 outbreak that killed an estimated 50 million chickens and turkeys, driving up egg and meat prices. . Bird flu has struck more than 200 farms in 15 states, costing the federal government about $1 billion and the poultry industry about $3 billion.

Yet without certainty about how to stop the disease this time, officials cannot be sure it will go away on its own. Food prices are already high due to inflation and supply chain issues, and if the avian flu outbreak spreads to enough farms, prices for chicken, turkey and eggs could still increase.

“We don’t see a massive large-scale outbreak, so I think it’s too early to worry about the food impact or the price impact at this point, but you have to recognize that that can be a problem over time,” the Iowa secretary said. Agriculture Mike Naig said.

This year, the first case was discovered in a commercial facility in Indiana in February. Since then, 6.6 million laying and broiler chickens and 341,000 turkeys have been slaughtered, mostly buried in trenches on site.

The United States Department of Agriculture says the virus does not present a food quality problem since birds from infected farms must be slaughtered and do not enter the food processing system. Nevertheless, proper handling and cooking of all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 F is recommended as a general food safety precaution.

Even though scientists are confident that wild birds spread the disease, they still don’t know how the virus enters highly-secured barns, which are usually equipped with modern ventilation systems and have strict protocols for people entering buildings. .

Asked about Iowa’s first case in a commercial turkey flock, Iowa State veterinarian Dr. Jeff Kaisand said, “We don’t know exactly how he got in.

It’s an especially big question in Iowa, the top egg-producing state with 49 million chickens. Last Friday, Iowa saw its first case this year in a commercial egg-laying operation, resulting in the death of an estimated 919,000 hens.

On Monday, the disease was confirmed in a Wisconsin laying hen farm with 3 million hens.

The USDA said in a 2017 report that studies of the 2015 outbreak were inconclusive, but spread between facilities occurred primarily on employees’ shared gear, clothing or boots. , and on vehicles used for feed distribution and other purposes.

The disease can also be spread by small birds sneaking into buildings or followed indoors by mice.

“Even when you look at the final epidemiological analyzes from 2015, there wasn’t a single source of introduction. They weren’t able to draw a conclusion,” said Dr. Yuko Sato, veterinarian and associate professor at Iowa State University in Veterinary Diagnostics and Production Animal Medicine.” I would say that each introduction will likely be self-contained. It’s not just a weak link.”

Minnesota turkey farmer Greg Langmo, who lost 90,000 turkeys in 2015, is grateful his state, the nation’s top turkey farmer, has been spared so far. He said farmers were following biosecurity protocols, going so far as to keep starling and barn swallow nests away from their barns.

“We’re hopeful that some of the new strategies we’re employing will be enough to avoid it,” he said. “We are doing our best and we will play the cards we have.”

Studies in the United States and France since 2015 suggest that the virus can be carried by wind-borne dust particles. This has led to new protocols to mitigate airborne transmission during outbreaks, including killing infected birds within 24 hours, increasing testing and taking extra precautions within 10 kilometers of infected facilities.

“The birds that carry the virus are usually wild waterfowl – your ducks, your geese, your ducks – so there’s no way these birds could get into barns. It will be something else that will bring it. But just knowing that the outside isn’t safe is the only inference we can make,” Sato said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said recent bird flu infections in flocks do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States. Although it can be transmitted to humans, it is unusual and usually due to close contact with infected birds.

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