Bird Flu Discovered on Tyson-Contracted Farm in Tennessee

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Mar 07, 2017

A strain of bird flu has been detected in a chicken breeder flock on a Tennessee farm contracted to U.S. food giant Tyson Foods Inc. The 73,500 birds will be culled to prevent the virus from entering the food system, government and company officials said on Sunday, March 5, according to a Reuters report.

The USDA said this represented the first confirmed case of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza (HPAI) in commercial poultry in the U.S. this year. It's the first time HPAI has been found in Tennessee, the state government said.

Tyson, the biggest chicken meat producer in the U.S., said it was working with Tennessee and federal officials to contain the virus by euthanizing the birds on the contract farm. No people were affected in that outbreak, which was primarily of the H5N2 strain. The risk of human infection in poultry outbreaks is low, although in China people have died this winter amid an outbreak of the H7N9 virus in birds.

In 2014 and 2015, during a widespread outbreak of HPAI, the United States killed nearly 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens. The losses pushed U.S. egg prices to record highs and prompted trading partners to ban imports of American poultry, even though there was little infection then in the broiler industry.

The affected plant, located in Tennessee's Lincoln County. has been placed under quarantine, along with approximately 30 other poultry farms within a 6.2-mile radius of the site, the state said. Other flocks in the quarantined area are being tested, it added. Tyson, the USDA and the state did not identify the specific facility involved. Tyson also said it did not expect disruptions to its chicken business. Tyson added that precautions are being taken to disinfect all vehicles entering farms and a ban was placed on all nonessential visitor access to contract farms.

The USDA expects to get more information about the particular strain of the virus involved, the Reuters report noted, and indicated it would inform the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and international trading partners of the outbreak. PAI bird flu was last found in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana in January 2016.

The biggest traditional markets for U.S. chicken meat are Mexico and Canada, which introduced state or regional bans on U.S. broiler exports after the outbreak two years ago, and China, which imposed a national ban.

Tennessee's broiler production isn't large enough to rank in the top five U.S. producing states, but it's the third-largest generator of cash receipts in agriculture for the state. 

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