Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Bird Flu Returns to U.S. Poultry Industry With Indiana Case

  • USDA says strain is different from those in 2015 outbreak
  • Shares of Pilgrim's Pride, Tyson Foods drop; Cal-Maine jumps

The U.S. government confirmed the presence of a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana, the country’s first case since the end of last year’s outbreak that led to the destruction of 50 million animals.

The H7N8 strain discovered at a 60,000-bird flock in Dubois County is different from those that caused last year’s outbreak, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service said Friday in a statement on its website. Federal and state authorities are monitoring and testing the nearby area, it said, without naming the exact site.

The USDA contacted countries that buy poultry and eggs after the detection and hasn’t received any notice of official import restrictions, T.J. Myers, associate deputy administrator at the inspection service’s APHIS, said on a conference call with the media. The USDA is working to “minimize the trade impact,” Myers said.

U.S. poultry producers have been on edge after recent cases in France. The 2015 U.S. outbreak, which ended in June, led to record-high egg prices and caused some shortages of turkey deli meat used in subs and sandwiches. It cost the industry $3.3 billion.

Rapid Response

Producers have been discussing the new outbreak in a series of conference calls since they first became aware of the Indiana case late Thursday, said John Brunnquell, president of Egg Innovations LLC, which produces free-range eggs in farms across the Midwest. The response has been rapid, with the killing of birds going on throughout the night, he said in an interview.

“The timing of the disease was a surprise because most in the industry did not think it would reappear for another two or three months,” said Terry Reilly, a senior commodity analyst for Futures International LLC in Chicago.

Preliminary tests indicate the H7N8 strain found in Indiana was of North American origin, according to the USDA’s Myers. The USDA will conduct diagnostics to seek a cause for the mutation of the virus, he said.

Different Strain

Determined to avoid a repeat of the nation’s worst-ever avian-influenza outbreak, the USDA stockpiled millions of doses of a new vaccine designed to fight the 2015 strain, which is different than the one in Indiana, Myers said.

“Concerns are huge, but we cannot pull the panic button until we know quite a bit more,” said Bill Lapp, the president of Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Nebraska. “Because it is found in a different state, and is a different strain, it makes an even greater mystery.”

Sixty-five egg and turkey farms are within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the affected barn, said Brunnquell of Egg Innovations. The area is home to an estimated 4.5 million egg-layers and about 1 million to 2 million turkeys.

Producers within 10 kilometers of the affected barn can’t move products or animals without testing to determine if they are free of the virus, Denise Derrer, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Board of Animal Health, said in a telephone interview.

Testing Birds

The affected producer began terminating birds in nine other barns on the farm after tests showed the virus was highly pathogenic. A bird flu test conducted by a Purdue, Indiana, laboratory came back positive yesterday, Derrer said.

No other signs of the virus have yet been detected, she said. Government teams will travel to the area to contact people raising backyard flocks on Saturday to test more birds.

Indiana’s poultry industry ranks fourth nationally in turkey production, first in duck production and third in eggs. It also is a significant producer of broiler chickens.

Shares of poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. closed 5.2 percent lower in New York, the most in three months. Tyson Foods Inc., which produces chicken and other meats, fell as much as 5.5 percent before closing down 2.7 percent.

The case of avian flu in Indiana doesn’t involve Tyson, Hormel Foods Corp., Cargill Inc., Maxwell Farms LLC’s Butterball or Sanderson Farms Inc., according to company e-mailed responses.

The news of the case of bird flu was a boost for Cal-Maine Foods Inc., the largest U.S. egg supplier. Its stock jumped as much as 11 percent before closing up 5.2 percent.

Avian influenza doesn’t present a food safety risk. All shipments of poultry and eggs are tested to ensure the absence of avian influenza before moving into the food supply. The Centers for Disease Control considers the risk of illness to humans to be very low.

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