The spread of H5N2 avian influenza in commercial turkey flocks is a growing concern among breeders from Minnesota to Arkansas and along the West Coast, with well over a million birds euthenized in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus. But one man’s poison is another man’s meat, so to speak, and softening of turkey-meat prices could be one consequence of the problem, though the consensus at this time is that availability has not been impacted and little or no impact on supply and demand has occurred.
Almost one in five of the 240-270 million turkeys that come to market each year are raised in Minnesota, where more than half a million birds have been destroyed in an effort to contain the virus’s spread. Migrating birds that are unaffected by the virus are believed to spread the disease. At one producer’s operation, only a score of 2,000 birds in a flock were still alive within 48 hours of infection.
As a result of the outbreak, an increasing number of countries have imposed partial or total bans on turkey imports from Minnesota. An estimated 12 percent of the state’s turkey production is exported, and the import bans could result in a domestic glut
Eleven nations have imposed total bans, including China, the second largest importer of Minnesota turkey meat, according to Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association in Buffalo, Minn. Another 39 countries are restricting imports from counties in 10 states where outbreaks have occurred. But two-thirds of the state’s exports go to Mexico, and thermal treatments performed by Mexican importers ensure that there is no possibility that the virus can be introduced to the country by means of imported meat, explains Olson.
Approximately 2,500 Minnesota flocks come to market each year, and only 14 have been infected to date. This particular avian flu strain has never been detected before in North America, and it is particularly pathogenic. But public health officials emphasize that the virus does not pose a food safety or human health danger. The outbreaks have been too few and too widespread to produce an epidemiologic trend, and researchers still are focusing on understanding how the virus works and how it is spread. Fortunately, the migratory pattern along the Mississippi flyway now is south to north, which should provide time to safeguard turkey programs before Canadian flocks return in the fall.