Bird Flu Hits Another Tennessee Chicken Farm Linked to Tyson

  • Affected farm is less than 2 miles from prior incident
  • Flock contained 55,000 chickens; birds will be destroyed

A second case of bird flu in Tennessee has been reported at a chicken farm, heightening the threat from the disease in the U.S. southeast, the country’s biggest poultry region.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza -- which can be fatal to domesticated poultry -- was found at a commercial chicken-breeder farm in Lincoln County, Tennessee, the state’s agriculture department said Thursday in a statement. The case comes after a chicken farm that was less than 2 miles (3 kilometers) away had reported the deadly virus in early March, the first incident in the U.S. in more than a year. Both farms were contracted with Tyson Foods Inc., according to company spokesman Worth Sparkman.

“Given the close proximity of the two premises, this is not unexpected,” Charles Hatcher, Tennessee state veterinarian, said in the statement. “We will continue to execute our plan, working quickly to prevent the virus from spreading further.”

Shares of Tyson, the largest U.S. chicken company, dropped 1.7 percent to close at $62 in New York on Thursday. The stock earlier fell as much as 3 percent, the biggest intraday decline since March 6. Rival poultry producer Sanderson Farms Inc. declined 1.6 percent and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. slid 1 percent.

While countries across Europe and Asia are also battling with bird flu outbreaks, Brazil, the world’s leading chicken exporter, has remained free of the disease. BRF SA, the country’s largest chicken exporting company, rose as much as 4.5 percent after the news of the second Tennessee case.

55,000 Chickens

The affected flock had 55,000 chickens, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture statement. The farm has been quarantined, and the birds will be destroyed to prevent the disease’s spread. The virus reported at both farms was an H7N9 strain from North American wild-bird lineage.

Since the initial Tennessee report, South Korea banned imports of U.S. poultry and some other importing nations restricted product from the state or area affected.

The U.S. southeast was largely spared during the last major American outbreak, which affected turkey and egg farms in the Midwest and led to the death of more than 48 million birds through mid-2015, either from infection or culling.

Bird flu “has tended to impact older birds much more heavily,” including turkeys, egg-laying hens or breeders, according to a March 6 report from Vertical Group analysts Heather Jones and Brandon Groeger. For breeding chickens, females begin laying eggs when they’re about 24 weeks of age, according to Pennsylvania State University. Chickens raised for meat are slaughtered at about seven weeks.

Breeding Farms

Both infected Tennessee farms were breeding operations.

The birds on the two Lincoln County premises were between 29 and 45 weeks old, Donna Karlsons, a spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in an email. The agency doesn’t consider age to be a determinant factor in susceptibility to the virus.

Tyson doesn’t expect disruptions to its business and plans to meet customers’ needs given it has operations in multiple states, Sparkman said.

Lincoln County is near Tennessee’s border with Alabama, one of the largest U.S. chicken-producing states. Earlier this week, Alabama said it was investigating bird flu cases at three premises in the northern part of the state. One was a commercial chicken-breeding facility, while the others were at a backyard poultry flock and flea market. The three cases are confirmed or presumed to be low-pathogenic avian influenza, which typically causes only minor symptoms in poultry, the state’s agriculture department said Thursday in a statement.

A case of low-pathogenic bird flu was also found last week in a commercial chicken flock in Giles County, Tennessee.

— With assistance by Fabiana Batista

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