Major Egg Producer Detects Bird Flu, Must Kill Nearly 2 Million Chickens

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
April 2, 2024US News
Major Egg Producer Detects Bird Flu, Must Kill Nearly 2 Million Chickens
Chickens at a farm in a file photo. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Tests from birds at a major egg producer in the south have returned positive for avian influenza, prompting plans to kill nearly two million hens and pullets. A producer in Michigan also said some of its birds tested positive for the illness.

Cal-Maine Foods said April 2 that it was depopulating 1.6 million laying hens and 33,7000 pullets, which totals about 3.6 percent of its flocks, after some of the birds at a facility in Parmer County, Texas tested positive for H1N5, a strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Under federal rules aimed at stemming the spread of disease, infected flocks must be killed.

The number of impacted birds is the largest since Dec. 7, 2023, when an Ohio farm was forced to kill 2.6 million egg layers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The other non-backyard cull this month involved just 31,200 birds in South Dakota.

Cal-Maine Foods had to kill about 1.6 percent of its flock in 2023 after the avian influenza was detected at a Kansas facility, and numerous other companies across the country culled millions of chickens in 2022 and 2023.

Cal-Maine Foods is halting production at the facility in order to comply with protocols from the department. The firm said it is working to secure eggs and meat from other facilities “to minimize disruption to its customers.”

“The company continues to work closely with federal, state and local government officials and focused industry groups to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks and effectively manage the response,” according to Cal-Maine Foods.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in a statement called the new development “absolutely devastating news for Cal-Maine and the entire Panhandle region which has already suffered so much already.”

He added: “all producers must practice heightened biosecurity measures. The rapid spread of this virus means we must act quickly.”

The United States has about 211 million egg-layers, according to federal data.

Michigan Cases

Another facility in Michigan had birds test positive for the influenza, or HPAI, officials there said.

The birds were being housed at a commercial facility in Ionia County, the first time birds in the county have tested positive at a commercial facility in the county, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said.

“As the weather remains cool and wild birds continue their migration, conditions are ideal for the virus to thrive and spread. While these conditions persist, the need to take preventative measures will be high,” state veterinarian Nora Wineland said in a statement. “Keeping HPAI out of Michigan s domestic animals remains a team effort, and it must be a top priority for all.”

Officials said that the facility at which birds tested positive is under quarantine and the birds will be killed.

Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, which is headquartered in the county, told a local outlet that some its birds tested positive.

“Herbruck’s is heartbroken by the loss of any hen, and we were devastated to learn that some of the hens at our Green Meadow Organics facility are infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza,” Greg Herbruck, CEO of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, said in a statement.

Neither state officials nor the company said how many birds were affected; it has about 10 million birds across three states. The firm provides eggs to McDonald’s and other companies.

Bird Flu

The avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, has been spreading in wildfowl and other birds in recent years. It was recently detected for the first time in domestic ruminants, including cattle. A person tested positive after coming into contact with cows believed to have the illness, Texas and federal officials said on Monday. That’s just the second case in humans in the United States, with the first coming in 2022.

The first case recovered and the second case is recovering, the government said.

There are no signs the flu is spreading from person to person but the influenza may be transmitting between animals, including cows, officials said.

Cows have tested positive in Texas, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, and Idaho. Most of the herds with the illness are in or originated from Texas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that testing of the cases show the strain in the cattle appears to have been introduced by wild birds. The strain came from China.

“Initial testing has not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans. While cases among humans in direct contact with infected animals are possible, this indicates that the current risk to the public remains low,” the agency said.

Officials said that milk is safe because dairies are required to destroy or divert milk from sick cows, and any milk that enters the commercial market is required to be pasteurized. Federal officials say the situation emphasizes how it is risky to consume raw milk.

Other precautions include washing hands after handling birds and disinfecting gear if moving between coops on farms.

From The Epoch Times

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