It’s been a few years, but the first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) has struck the United States. Earlier this week, a chicken farm affiliated with Tyson Foods discovered a flock had been contaminated. The flock consisted of about 73,500 birds, which were used for breeding. As a result of the outbreak, the flock had to be destroyed.
This is certainly not the first time avian influenza has struck the poultry market. Earlier this year, the H5N6 flu strain struck South Korea, which resulted in authorities exterminating about 17 percent of the national flock of chickens and 28 percent of ducks. These birds were not raised for meat, but rather for eggs. Considering how many traditional Korean dishes contain eggs, the average price of eggs sold by South Korean farmers soared 50 percent to 1,551 won ($1.30) for 10 standard-sized eggs in December from a year earlier, while the average retail price rose 21.4 percent to 2,207 won. The prices have increased since December, which is dealing a blow to the overall economy, including farmers, grocery stores, markets, and restaurants alike.
This is not the first time that the avian influenza has struck the US market either. In June of 2015, the US began importing eggs from Europe due to a massive shortage. In that case, the avian flu affected more than 47 million birds, which was about 16 percent of the egg-laying population. As I wrote in an article in June 2015, the impact was two-fold, as eggs are sold in two main forms: liquid eggs and shell eggs. Liquefying eggs is an on-farm process where chickens lay eggs, which are then broken, liquefied, and frozen or dried. These eggs are used mainly in commercial food products. For businesses that rely on the liquid eggs, the avian flu outbreak was devastating, as the majority of avian flu deaths came at these facilities. The result was prices shot up 240 percent. Additionally, most bakeries could not get their hands on enough eggs to keep their operations going.
Luckily, the majority of eggs sold in the US were of the shell variety, which was not hit nearly as hard. However, even with the outbreak causing less of an impact, prices still rose, albeit not nearly to the same levels. Fast forwards a few years, and the supply of eggs is back on track with what the US needs.
Enter the latest strain of avian flu. The good news for the latest outbreak is that these birds were used for breeding. This means that none of these birds were going to enter the food supply, and none of them were of the egg-laying variety. A spokesman for Tyson Foods indicated that while the number of chickens affected seems large, the company does not expect any disruptions in their ability to meet customer demands for chicken.
To make sure there is not an outbreak similar to that of 2015, all farms within six miles of the affected farm in Tennessee have been quarantined. This includes about 30 farms. The 2015 avian influenza outbreak cost eh US poultry and egg industry about $386 million in exports. As a result, US chicken, turkey, and egg processors have invested in biosecurity measures and other precautions to prevent future outbreaks. The outbreak seems to have been contained at this point, but it is certainly something that we will keep an eye on, and hope that the supply chain implications do not match those of 2015.