Avian Flu Spread in the US Worries Poultry Industry

The 2014–2015 outbreak is considered the most destructive in the country’s history. This sent poultry and egg prices skyrocketing and cost the industry more than $3 billion, even though the federal government compensated farmers for the loss of livestock. After all, nearly 50 million birds have been killed by the virus or destroyed to prevent its spread, the vast majority of them in Iowa and Minnesota.

John Berkel, 54, a fourth-generation turkey farmer from northern Minnesota, is watching the spread of the infection in awe. In 2015, the virus swept through his farm in a matter of days, leaving only 70 survivors in a barn housing 7,000 birds. The following weeks were spent culling, composting the dead, and then repeatedly disinfecting the barns. As a precaution, health officials also advised him and his son to take the antiviral drug Tamiflu. “We have never seen such a virulent virus,” said Mr. Berkel, a state assemblyman who works on a farm with his wife and two children. “It was just terrible.”

Since then, agricultural officials across the country have been pushing farmers to take a series of biosecurity measures aimed at preventing outbreaks. These include patching tiny holes that could allow mice or sparrows to enter barns, disinfecting the tires of feed trucks before they enter the farm, and creating “clean” and “dirty” areas where workers can change into fresh clothes. shoes and overalls before going out. inside the animal shed.

At the same time, experts say federal officials have beefed up a nationwide surveillance system that allows researchers to monitor the spread of avian flu in wild bird populations in near real-time. “I think the 2015 crisis made us realize that it takes a whole village to prevent an outbreak and made us much better prepared,” said Dr. Yuko Sato, a poultry veterinarian at Iowa State University who advises local farmers on how to improve their biosafety methods.

But hypervigilance has its limits, especially with regard to microscopic pathogens that can sneak into a barn on a single pedicel of a housefly. For a growing number of scientists, the real threat is the country’s industrialized meat and dairy production system, with its reliance on genetically identical creatures packaged by the thousands in huge insulators.

Nearly all of the nine billion chickens raised and slaughtered in the United States each year can be traced back to a handful of rocks manipulated to promote rapid growth and plump breasts. Birds are also exceptionally vulnerable to disease outbreaks. “They all have the same immune system or no immune system, so once the virus enters the barn, it spreads like wildfire,” said Dr. Hansen, a veterinarian.

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