Deadly avian influenza viruses have affected more than 33 million turkeys, chickens and ducks in more than a dozen states since December….an enormous percentage of the nation’s commercial poultry stock. While producers in Asia have had to deal with epidemics of avian flu, it’s a first for U.S. producers, in terms of the sheer scale of the crisis.
And the flu epidemic is not just impacting farmers. The ripple effect is hurting a wide range of businesses, and consumers, who are paying higher prices for eggs and products that use them.
There are practical issues to contend with, including euthanizing infected flocks and carcass disposal. It’s never been done on this scale in the U.S., and the decontamination process presents enormous challenges.
The highly mechanized barns at egg farms have presented the U.S.D.A. and Iowa officials, not to mention producers like the Deans, with an unprecedented cleanup and disposal challenge, and nobody is quite sure how to approach it. Center Fresh was using “bio bags” to dispose of its hens, but after running into problems with that process, it is now composting dead birds on its property.
In a normal cull, Center Fresh would euthanize its birds and grind their carcasses for use in pet food.
But laying hens culled as part of controlling the avian flu outbreak cannot be disposed of that way, nor can they be composted inside the barns where they lived, which is how infected turkeys are being handled for the most part. “Disposal has been a challenge,” said Dr. T.J. Myers, associate deputy administrator for veterinary services at the Agriculture Department.
“It’s going to be two to three years before they’ll be fully back in operation,” said W. Dale Den Herder, chairman and chief executive of American Standard Bank, one of the largest agricultural lenders in Iowa. “There are state and federal workers all over helping to clean up and figure out what to do to avoid contamination.”
This article provides an excellent summary of the situation. A must read.