The highly virulent avian bird flu sweeping across the U.S. Midwest affecting chicken and turkey farmers. The avian flu in question, H5N2, is the rare and deadly offspring of the H5N1 avian flu that has found a permanent home in Asia. Millions of egg laying hens have been euthanized due to the detection of at least one hen among the farm population. This has led to a dramatic decrease of eggs and egg products in the U.S. Without increasing imports, the situation is dire for bakers and other food manufacturers who rely upon eggs as an ingredient.
- USDA Avian Influenza Findings
- USDA Map of Influenza Detections by County – as of May 13, 2015
- Urner Barry Egg Market Analysis – as of May 15, 2015 (subscription required – free)
- American Egg Board Supplier List
- Avian Influenza and Egg Supply – ABA Issue Brief
- U.S. Bird Flu Virus Seen Under Control Within a Few Months – Reuters, May 26
- U.S. Bird Flu Causes Egg Shortage, Emergency Measures – Reuters, May 22
- Iowa Bird Flu Farms Fall Short on Containment Measures – Reuters, May 21
- Food Companies Fear Bird Flu May Cause Egg Shortages – NYTimes, May 21
- Egg Prices Jump As Bird Flu Spreads – WSJ, May 21
- There’s Really Bad News For Egg Lovers – WSJ, May 21
Currently, only Canada has access to the U.S. market, and can export both eggs and egg products. The Netherlands also had access in the recent past, and is currently seeking to renew it’s “equivalency” certification with the U.S. Department of Commerce Food Safety & Inspection Service. Once this occurs, the egg suppliers from the Netherlands will be able to export egg products to the U.S. No other countries are currently able to export to the U.S. CLICK HERE to see the full list of countries approved to export under USDA FSIS.
Why Can’t Countries Other than Canada and the Netherlands Export to the U.S.?
In the past, the U.S. was not a destination market for eggs. Demand for foreign eggs was nonexistent, and egg suppliers from other countries (for the most part) did not see the need to ask their governments to seek approval to export to the U.S. As this demand has dramatically changed due to the impact the avian flu is having on egg laying hens, countries willing to export will need to start the “equivalency” approval process (see the heading titled FSIS Import Application Process) in order to be approved for export.
What Happens After Detection?
First, and focusing on chickens, all of the hens at production facility are euthanized to prevent the further spreading of the flu. Eggs at the location are also destroyed. After this occurs, a lengthy decontamination process begins to ensure that the flu is eradicated from the premises before the re-introduction of new chickens. Overall, this process can take anywhere between 60 and 120 days.
What will eradicate the avian flu?
The avian influenza has a very high mortality rate and is very contagious – so much so that once one bird is found to have the influenza in a population, the entire population will be euthanized. To date, there are only two known solutions to combat the spread of the avian flu among bird populations:
1) Sustained temperatures above 80 degrees will kill off the virus
2) Vaccines have been created, but are currently not in use due to cost and possibly regulatory compliance issues
How did it get to the U.S.?
Avian influenza strains are spread globally by migratory birds, mostly ducks and geese, and is transmitted typically through their droppings. The first signs of the avian influenza hit in late Dec. 2014 in Oregon, with more cases being reported in through Feb. 2015 in Washington, California and Idaho. Then in March 2015, the first case of the avian flu was reported in Minnesota, setting off a dramatic chain of influenza detections among chickens, turkeys and other poultry in the Mississippi flyway.