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Marketplace

Iowa farm the latest to suffer bird flu’s toll

Annie Baxter Apr 21, 2015
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Up to about 5 million hens will have be euthanized at a farm in Iowa due to an outbreak of the highly infectious bird flu. The virus has been hammering poultry producers in the Midwest, particularly turkey farmers in Minnesota.

Producers have had to destroy millions of birds. They’ve also ramped up biosecurity measures such as rinsing shoes in a disinfectant prior to entering a barn.

“Everyone had very tight biosecurity programs before, and I would say they’re tightening the hatch even more,” says Mark Cook, a professor of animal science at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Cook consults with poultry producers on those biosecurity programs and usually does farm visits. But he recently tabled one such visit with a Minnesota producer.

“I don’t want to track anything to them and they don’t want me over there. And I don’t want them over in my facility either,” he says. “In fact, our last visit with them was in a hotel halfway between Minnesota and Wisconsin within the past month.”

Scientists suspect wild waterfowl are spreading the virus through the feces they drop during migration.

The virus kills commercial poultry quickly. Once a case is identified, all other birds in a barn must be euthanized. The infected birds are kept out of the food supply. The threat to human health is considered low

It’s not yet clear if the destruction of millions of chickens and turkeys will cause a price spike for those products. If that happens, consumers may opt for other meats.

“What people do is switch,” says Mike Boland, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Minnesota. He says so far there has not been a noticeable spike in turkey prices, though the Associated Press reports that Hormel expects to sell less turkey this year because of the flu outbreak.

Boland adds that any effect on egg prices will be tough to gauge. He notes that egg production and prices have fluctuated a great deal over the past five years.

“A lot of fluctuation is caused by food safety issues,” he says. “Some of it is caused just by demand for eggs is going up—people are eating more eggs.”

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