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Ohio is hit hardest as bird flu returns to the Midwest

After a summertime lull, bird flu is back in the Midwest, the heart of U.S. egg and turkey production, with outbreaks at commercial poultry farms in Minnesota and Ohio since Sept. 1. Some 43.85 million birds have been culled this year due to highly pathogenic avian influenza, and one analyst says turkey and egg prices may remain elevated for some time to come.

“The risk of an outbreak this autumn remains elevated,” said Brian Earnest, lead animal protein economist for agricultural lender CoBank. Although the 2014-15 HPAI epidemic killed more chickens and turkeys than this year’s outbreaks, the impact on the U.S. market has been greater, Earnest wrote in a report. Egg prices have nearly tripled and the price of turkey breast meat was up 60% because of smaller supplies and strong demand.

“Due to a variety of factors, including high labor and feed costs, we predict that egg and turkey supply will be slower to rebound from this outbreak and prices slower to drop,” said Earnest.

An egg farm in northwestern Ohio began culling 3 million egg-laying hens last week following discovery of bird flu at the farm in Defiance County. HPAI was confirmed last week at a 50,000-bird turkey farm in Morrison County, Minnesota, about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Ohio, Iowa and Indiana are the leading egg states, with more than 36 million hens each. Minnesota is No. 1 in turkey production.

Since Sept. 1, “high path” bird flu has affected 3.1 million birds in four commercial flocks and six backyard flocks, according to USDA data. It was the largest monthly total since April, when HPAI was rampant.

HPAI can be transmitted by droppings from migratory wild birds. The USDA has repeatedly urged owners to follow biosecurity practices, such as minimizing contact between their birds and outsiders. “Flock owners should prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials,” said a USDA spokeswoman in late August, after the first outbreaks of HPAI in commercial flocks in California.

Following record-high detections of HPAI in wild birds and domestic flocks, the European Food Safety Authority said in mid-summer the virus “may have become endemic in wild bird populations in Europe.” That wording means “they expect detections will be year-round, year after year,” said Earnest. Some 46 million birds in domestic flocks were culled because of HPAI in Europe.

The U.S spate of HPAI outbreaks began in early February and was the first major appearance of bird flu in seven years. Outbreaks tend to be worst during cold weather months, with the viral disease dissipating with the arrival of warm weather. Roughly 43.2 million hens and 7.3 million turkeys were killed during the 2014-15 epidemic.

The CoBank report is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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