Bird flu outbreak nears worst ever in US with 37 million chickens and turkeys dead

The bird flu is driving up the cost of eggs and other poultry-related products

Graig Graziosi
Friday 06 May 2022 21:56 BST

Related video: Thousands of chickens killed and disposed off due to bird flu outbreak

A current explosion of bird flu across the country is on track to become the nation’s worst, with more than 37 million chickens and turkeys already having succumbed to the outbreak.

Bloomberg reports that the federal government has advised farms to destroy entire commercial flocks if even one bird is tested positive for the virus. This has led to troubling realities in farms across the country.

Birds are killed by suffocation or poisonous foam in some circumstances, leaving the foul odour of dead animals wafting through nearby communities.

The disease is primarily affecting egg-laying hens and turkeys, which has also resulted in a spike in poultry-based food products, like deli meats. That jump in prices comes at a time when Americans are struggling with skyrocketing inflation in other sectors of the economy.

In April, egg prices rose to a record $2.90 a dozen, according to government data. The cost of whole turkeys also leapt to $1.47 a pound.

"More than 28 million laying hens have been culled as a result of the bird flu — that's nearly 9% of the total flock," Karyn Rispoli, an egg market reporter at commodity research firm Urner Barry, told CBS News. "When the outbreaks first started, the jump in wholesale values was being driven primarily by demand, as there was a bit of panic and short covering going on in the marketplace. But at this point, so much production has been removed from the landscape that it's more of a supply-side issue."

The bird flu last ravaged the US in 2015, killing approximately 50 million animals and costing the federal government more than a billion dollars.

Despite farms increasing their biosecurity measures in the wake of the 2015 outbreak, the industry has still failed to find a means to prevent wild birds — the primary carriers of the disease — from accessing their livestock. The disease can then be spread by transport trucks and contaminated clothing, though farmers are expected to adhere to strict decontamination guidelines to ensure they don't fuel an outbreak.

Iowa, the nation's largest egg producer, has been hit the hardest by the outbreak, with more than 5.3m hens being destroyed on one farm alone.

It took more than a year for the nation's poultry producers to bounce back from the impact of the bird flu in 2015, and there is no reason to expect a shorter recovery following this year's outbreak.

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