“Highly pathogenic” bird flu could drive up prices for eggs, chickens and turkeys

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(NEXSTAR) – The USDA is warning of a “highly pathogenic bird flu,” which the agency has already identified in three states, that could spread rapidly and wreak havoc on the poultry industry if left unchecked.

Last week, avian flu was found in a flock of commercial broilers in Fulton County, Kentucky, and in a flock of birds in a backyard in Fauquier County, Virginia, the United States Department of Agriculture said in a news release Monday.

The virus was also identified in a group of commercial turkeys in Dubois County, Indiana, earlier this month. All 29,000 turkeys in this flock were killed to prevent the spread of the virus.

The same fate appears to be in store for the affected chickens in Kentucky and Virginia, identified last week. “State officials have quarantined affected premises and birds on the properties are being depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease,” the agency said.

Birds from either flock “will not enter the food system,” the USDA added.

As the virus spreads widely and affects more commercial poultry farms, egg, chicken and turkey prices are likely to be impacted. That would be bad news for consumers who are already dealing with inflated food prices. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that food prices were up 7% in January 2022 from a year earlier.

A bird flu outbreak in 2015 caused producers to kill 33 million laying hens in Iowa, the country’s top egg producer, and 9 million birds in Minnesota, the country’s top turkey producer, with smaller outbreaks in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The disease sent egg and turkey prices soaring across the country for months, with the cost of eggs rising 61% between May and July 2015 and boneless, skinless turkey breast prices rising 75%.

“Now that we have a confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the commercial poultry industry, it is definitely seen as a high-risk time,” said Dr. Denise Heard, Poultry Veterinarian and Vice President for Research at the US Poultry & Egg Association. “I’m confident we can handle this situation better and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that this remains an isolated case, but I would hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.”

There have been no confirmed cases of bird flu infecting humans, the USDA said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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