The ongoing bird flu outbreak in the United States has cost the government roughly $661 million and added to consumers’ pain at the grocery store after more than 58 million birds were slaughtered to limit the spread of the virus. Farmers who raise those animals have easily lost more than $1 billion, and the bad news is that with the outbreak entering its second year and the spring migratory season looming, there is no end in sight.
The highly contagious virus is spread easily by wild birds through their droppings and nasal discharges. Despite the best efforts of farmers, it is hard to keep the virus out. Farmers have gone to great lengths by requiring workers to shower and change clothes before entering barns, sanitizing trucks that enter a farm, and investing in separate sets of tools for every barn. Some farms have even upgraded barn ventilation and installed laser systems to discourage wild birds from congregating.
In the current outbreak, 58.4 million birds have been slaughtered on more than 300 commercial farms in 47 states. The entire flock on that farm — which can number in the millions — must be killed to limit the spread of the disease. Only Hawaii, Louisiana, and West Virginia have yet to report a case of bird flu. Iowa, the nation’s biggest egg producer, leads the nation with nearly 16 million birds slaughtered.
Egg prices shot up to $4.82 a dozen in January from $1.93 a year earlier. The price for a pound of chicken breast was $4.32 in January, and the wholesale price of turkey went from $1.29 per pound last January just before the bird flu outbreak began to $1.72 per pound last month.
The 2015 outbreak remains the most expensive animal health disaster in U.S. history, and this outbreak is already more widespread. The federal government spent nearly $1 billion to deal with infected birds, clean up barns, and compensate farmers. It cost the industry roughly $3 billion as farmers incurred additional costs and lost money when they didn’t have any birds on their farms.
Farmers began following the necessary steps after the 2015 outbreak, and this outbreak has only reinforced the need to tighten biosecurity. Poultry and egg producers, partnering with the government, are parsing this outbreak for new lessons in keeping birds healthy.
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