Bird flu hits first U.S. commercial poultry flock

Highly pathogenic bird flu has struck a commercial turkey farm in California.
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on January 26, 2015 12:14PM

Highly pathogenic bird flu has struck a commercial turkey flock in California’s Central Valley, escalating the virus’ threat to the U.S. poultry industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture posted a notice Saturday reporting that H5N8 bird flu had been confirmed in Stanislaus County.

Foster Farms, which has several poultry farms in the county, said it detected the virus during routine testing and alerted the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The virus was confirmed in one turkey house with 9,000 birds and is related to avian influenza strains previously found in migrating ducks in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and Utah, according to a report by the World Organization for Animal Health.

Although tests were negative for avian flu in other turkey houses on the farm, the other birds will be euthanized, according to the USDA.

The World Organization for Animal Health reported that some 145,000 birds were on the farm. The number could not be immediately confirmed with the USDA or Foster Farms.

The USDA and California Department of Food and Agriculture have quarantined the farm.

Bird flu spread to 11 British Columbia, Canada, commercial poultry farms in the first half of December, but until Saturday the highly contagious and lethal virus had been confined in the U.S. to non-commercial flocks, wild birds and captive falcons.

“We feared that at some point it was going to end up in commercial operations,” USA Poultry and Egg Export Council President Jim Sumner said.

Backyard flocks with access to the outdoors and in contact with disease-carrying wild birds have been infected in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. More information about how the turkeys in California may have picked up the disease was not immediately available.

Low pathogenic bird flu — less virulent than the highly pathogenic strains circulating in the West this winter — was detected in a Stanislaus County, Calif., quail farm last April.

The European Union and Japan on Monday reacted to the newest case by banning poultry raised, processed or shipped from California. Many countries have already banned poultry from Washington, Oregon and Idaho and likely will now put California on the list.

None of the West Coast states are major poultry producers for export, but their ports provide access to Asian markets.

Poultry exporters already were struggling with port slowdowns that have affected other commodities. Restrictions on shipping from the West Coast will further hamper the industry, Sumner said.

The Port of Oakland is particularly important for poultry exports, he said.

“The thing that concerns us is California is a transit center for the world,” Sumner said. “You can’t feasibly airfreight poultry.”

U.S. poultry producers export roughly one-fifth of their products, according to the Egg and Poultry Export Council.

China, South Korea and South Africa imposed blanket bans on U.S. poultry after bird flu was detected in a backyard flock in Winston, Ore., in mid-December.

“We’re hopeful this does not result in major new disruptions affecting the poultry industry outside the state of California,” Sumner said.

Low pathogenic bird flu has struck U.S. flocks a handful of times in the past decade. Highly pathogenic bird flu virus had not been confirmed in the United States since a 7,000-chicken flock in Texas was infected in 2004.


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