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Avian Influenza Reaches U.S. Shores for the First Time in 2017

Regular readers of Today in Food will remember the avian influenza scare that hit the U.S. in 2015 and 2016. They’ll also probably remember that the virus is ravaging flocks in Asia and Europe in 2017. Now, the virus has shown up on U.S. soil for the first time this year.

USDA confirmed the presence of H7 avian influenza in a commercial chicken breeder flock in Lincoln County, TN. USDA and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture will cull the 73,500 birds on the affected farm. In addition, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture established a 6.2-mile quarantine zone, which will affect about 30 other poultry farms.

Tyson Foods confirmed the affected farm is contracted to the company. Tyson is working with Tennessee and federal officials to contain the virus by euthanizing the birds on the contract farm, and does not expect disruptions to its chicken business.

The discovery is already causing shockwaves around the world. South Korea banned imports of U.S. poultry, according to the country’s agricultural ministry, reported Reuters (March 5). The country itself is contending with an avian influenza outbreak, and was relying heavily on U.S.-sourced eggs. The country will still allow for the importation of heat-treated chicken meat and egg products, but live varieties will be banned.

Meanwhile, British officials confirmed the presence of avian influenza in a farm in eastern England, reported Reuters (March 3). The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said the virus was detected on the separate premises after a confirmed case of H5N8 avian flu was found at a poultry farm near Redgrave in Suffolk.

It’s unclear how big an effect the outbreak will have on the U.S. chicken supply. In 2015, egg prices soared while turkey, chicken and other poultry products became significantly more expensive. Thus far, the outbreak seems isolated and affected a relatively small number of birds, but if the virus continues to spread, it’s fair to assume prices will increase again. Stay tuned to Today in Food and The Food Institute Blog for the latest developments.