Bird Flu Found on California Farm Spurs Export Bans

The disease known as bird flu has been found on a quail farm in California, prompting countries including Russia to ban poultry shipments from the state.

Low-pathogenic avian influenza was detected in a quail flock at a farm in Stanislaus County, California, on April 18, said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the state’s Department of Food & Agriculture. The case was confirmed by the federal agriculture agency, and the farm has been quarantined, he said.

“Veterinarians are humanely euthanizing birds at the farm as called for in established protocols, which also include epidemiological investigations, further testing of any at-risk flocks, and communication with other poultry farms to ensure that the disease is contained,” Lyle said today in an e-mail.

Russia and Taiwan banned imports of chicken from California. Cuba restricted imports of fresh or frozen poultry from birds raised or processed in Stanislaus County, and Japan has banned California eggs laid and poultry slaughtered on or after March 24, USDA reports show. The state exported $13 million of chicken in 2012, government data show.

Some countries have agreements with the U.S. that require poultry exports to be “suspended for a period when there are such detections,” Ed Curlett, a spokesman at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, said in an e-mail.

Little Effect

The ban will have little effect on the U.S. market for poultry meat because California isn’t a big exporter, Tom Elam, the president of food-industry consultant FarmEcon LLC in Carmel, Indiana, said in a telephone interview.

Some “minor” demand disruptions may occur if consumer concerns are raised, Elam said. There is a “huge impact” for the infected flock’s growers, he said.

The USDA has said U.S. poultry farms in 2014 will earn $203,500 on average, the highest in data since 1996. Demand is rising as consumers seek cheaper alternatives to red meat. Whole chickens at U.S. supermarkets sold at half the per-pound cost of beef or pork last month.

“If it’s handled properly, there should be no significant impact on California or the rest of the country,” said Elam, who has studied the poultry markets for 30 years “This is, however, a highly contagious disease among poultry and can potentially cause disruption,” and a spread of the virus would be “catastrophic,” he said.

The virus strain is H5, according to an online notification to the World Organisation for Animal Health. The affected farm contains about 95,000 Japanese quail. The premises has an additional 21,000 Peking ducks for egg production.

California, the top U.S. agricultural producer, had $720 million in chicken sales in 2012 and almost $400 million for eggs, according to Lyle of the state agency.

“The odds are low that it will cause problems beyond these farms,” FarmEcon’s Elam said. “It bears watching any time one of these outbreaks happens.”

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