- An estimated 73,500 chickens were destroyed at a Tennessee chicken farm due to a bird flu outbreak. 30 other farms within a six-mile radius have been quarantined, according to the Associated Press.
- The undisclosed farm is a supplier to meat and poultry giant Tyson Foods. "We don’t expect disruptions to our chicken business and plan to meet our customers’ needs,” a spokesman for Tyson, the largest U.S. meat company by sales, told the Wall Street Journal. It was the first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza to strike a commercial poultry flock in more than a year.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the destroyed birds will not enter the food system. The H7 avian influenza can be deadly to chickens and turkeys.
While it is too early to know the severity of the latest outbreak, the poultry business is no stranger to the devastation bird flu can wreak on the industry and consumers who buy their products.
A bird flu outbreak about two years ago destroyed 50 million farm birds nationwide, the majority of them egg-laying hens. The shortage of eggs and egg products sent prices soaring, prompting grocery stores to hike prices and some grocery outlets to limit the number of eggs shoppers could buy. Big companies involved in egg and poultry production were hit, too: Hormel Foods' Jennie-O Turkey Store brand and a Post Holdings unit that supplies egg products were among those businesses whose operations were impacted.
Poultry producers were quick to respond following the latest bird flu case. Reuters reported Monday that Pilgrim's Pride, the world's second-largest chicken producer, "immediately activated [avian influenza] response plans and heightened on-farm biosecurity programs at all Pilgrim's facilities." Sanderson Farms, the third-largest poultry producer, cracked down on the movement of people and vehicles into its facilities, the news service said.
Since the major outbreak in 2014 and 2015, poultry companies and farmers have improved security measures in their operations. The Agriculture Department has worked on developing vaccines in case of another outbreak. These improvements, coupled with the fact that temperatures across the country are warming as spring approaches — avian influenza thrives under cool and damp conditions — reduces the likelihood of another massive outbreak occurring this time around.
Food companies, poultry groups, state officials and the USDA were caught off-guard by how quickly the virus spread a few years ago, as well as its eventual severity. Their response to the recent outbreak indicates they're trying to contain this latest incident to a one-off event.