Johnny Morgan, Lavergne, Theresia | 8/25/2015 6:43:03 PM
BATON ROUGE, La. – Avian flu virus has led to a number of poultry flocks being destroyed. LSU AgCenter poultry specialist Theresia Lavergne says this has tightened supplies, but poultry meat and eggs are still available for consumers.
The virus was first detected in the northwestern states of Washington and Oregon before spreading to other areas of the country.
“At the end of 2014, the H5N2 virus had made its way into the United States by migratory birds,” Lavergne said.
So far, the Midwest has been hit hardest by the disease, but overall there have been 223 operations affected nationwide, she said. “That represents almost 50 million birds that have had to be depopulated.”
Of that, 10 percent of the U.S. egg laying flock was affected, which has caused some decrease in supply, but not enough to be considered a shortage, she said.
Prices have increased drastically due to the tight supply of eggs.
“There are some things the industry can do to alleviate some of the rise in prices,” Lavergne said. “We have liquid eggs in storage that are mainly used in baking. But now the number of eggs being broken for liquid is decreasing to avoid shell egg shortages in the retail egg sector.”
Also egg exports have decreased because countries are not importing U.S. eggs because the disease is known to be here.
That is also helping keep the egg supply at acceptable levels, she said. “If by some chance, a consumer were to get eggs from layers that had been exposed to avian influenza, there is nothing wrong with eating the eggs because heat kills the virus.”
Even the meat can be eaten, as long as it is cooked properly to 165 degrees, she said.
Egg prices at the farm are expected to be in the $1.67 to $1.72 per dozen range by year’s end, she said. That’s up from $1.42 at the end of 2014.
“Minnesota is a large producer of turkeys. So about three or four percent of our turkey production was affected by this as well,” Lavergne said, adding, “At this point, we just don’t know how much turkey prices will be affected for the Thanksgiving meal.”
Because the disease cannot be treated and cured, all infected operations must be destroyed with the carcasses disposed of.
Turkeys are normally kept on a bedding, so they can be easily composted within the houses. Then the facilities have to be cleaned, disinfected and remain idle until the United States Department of Agriculture gives the approval to repopulate, Lavergne said.
“We are starting to repopulate now,” she said. “So it takes a while to be sure that all of the virus is dead.”
This is the first time the H5N2 virus has been seen in the U.S., but Lavergne is fairly sure it will not be the last time a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza appears.
“The experts are predicting that this fall there will be an even more widespread avian influenza outbreak,” she said. “They are expecting migratory birds to carry the virus throughout the country.”
Waterfowl are known to harbor the virus, she said. They carry the virus and shed it, but they don’t develop the disease.
This could be a major problem for those with small, backyard-type flocks that are more easily exposed to infected birds and their droppings.
Louisiana producers have been spared in this round of the disease. The closest case to Louisiana was in northwest Arkansas, where there was one isolated case, which was depopulated, Lavergne said.Johnny Morgan