US bird flu cull breaks the seven million mark

By Georgi Gyton

- Last updated on GMT

The outbreaks have been seen predominately in turkeys and egg laying birds
The outbreaks have been seen predominately in turkeys and egg laying birds

Related tags Influenza Livestock Poultry

The USA is currently dealing with a series of avian influenza outbreaks, the like of which it has never seen before.

The most recent cases have been in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, with the latter two both understood to have declared a state of emergency.

Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, told GlobalMeatNews​ that the total number of birds culled since the beginning of the outbreak, at the end of last year, is believed to be around the 7.3 million mark. "That’s a combination of turkeys and egg layers,"​ he said. "At this point, it has not really been found in broilers,"​ he added.

"Only two of our major trading partners have cut off imports from the whole of the US – that’s South Korea and China,"​ he said. "We’ve estimated that loss to be worth around $36m per month."

Sumner said that approximately 37 countries had imposed regional restrictions on poultry exports, while around 110 countries have not imposed any. However, he said in most of those instances, he did not believe the US poultry export sector was losing sales. Some sales will have switched to other states, where companies have multiple sites and, in some cases, those supplies will come from other companies, he explained.

"However it is of course devastating for the states that are heavily effected by the outbreaks,"​ Sumner added. "We’ve never seen anything like this before."

One glimmer of hope is that "the virus doesn’t really survive well in hot weather, so we are expecting things to get a bit calmer over the summer".​ However, the fact the virus has been spread by migratory birds does mean there is nothing producers can really do, and it is likely that cases might pick up again later in the year when the wild birds will be on the move again, he warned.

"It is important to remind consumers that this product has not entered the food chain, and the farms are being monitored very carefully,"​ added Sumner.

Livestock health funding

In related news, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) pledged close to $3m in research grants in a bid to increase food security through improved livestock health, last week.

NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative was authorised by the 2014 Farm Bill, with three grants announced on 23 April. According to the USDA, priority was given to projects that will improve prevention, early detection, rapid diagnosis or recovery from new, foreign, or emerging diseases or arthropods (like fleas and ticks) that have the potential to cause major impacts on food security.

The latest grants go to Mississippi State University, Ohio State University, and the University of Vermont, covering research areas such as alternatives to antimicrobials, which has been an increasing focus for the USDA.

Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director, said: "These grants will allow scientists to discover the new tools and technologies necessary to deal with the threats insects and pathogens pose to livestock production in our nation, which ultimately benefit consumers through abundant, affordable food."

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