How the Bird Flu is Affecting Farming
By Chloe Patrick, PennAg Industries Association Contract and Council Director (April 4, 2023)
The first 2021/2022 detection of the Eurasian strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 in North America occurred in December 2021 in Canada. Subsequently, HPAI EA H5 and EA H5N1 viruses have been confirmed in wild birds, backyard flocks, commercial poultry facilities, and wild mammals in both Canada and the United States.
Since early 2022, more than 49 million birds in 46 states have either died as a result of bird flu virus infection or have been culled (killed) due to exposure to infected birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In February of 2022, word spread quickly of High Path Avian Influenza having touched base in the U.S., and fear spread rapidly as knowledge of the past outbreaks increased. It only takes a dime size of infected manure to infect a million birds. Additionally, the virus has several ways to infiltrate and infect birds.
Migration season is peak timing for the virus to spread as wildfowl are traveling across continents, bringing with them new diseases. The virus transmits very quickly, and once infected, the birds die rather fast. We have seen an increased number of turkeys and ducks infected, but all fowl are equally susceptible, especially if a strong biosecurity plan is not being followed. According to the USDA, APHIS, 47 states have been affected and over 58 million birds from commercial and backyard flocks have been sick and depopulated since February 2022.
There have been drastic price changes in meat and eggs due to the major impact avian flu has had on the industry. The affected farms go through a rigorous process to clean the premises once they detect this virus in their flock. Sick birds are depopulated and promptly composted onsite, following an intense cleaning/disinfection program. Further environmental testing is done to ensure the property is thoroughly clean before releasing the infection zone, which is a radius of 1.5 kilometers around the infected area.
Farms within that infection range go through frequent testing to ensure the virus has not spread elsewhere. Farms that fall into a control and surveillance zone are tested weekly to ensure there is no further viral spread. If a farm in the infection zone is empty, they are not permitted to repopulate until the infected property is cleared of the virus. While this practice is important to reduce the spread of infection, it has been a challenge to farmers due to increased down times and lost income.
Pennsylvania is the only state so far to offer an HPAI Emergency Recovery Grant package to assist the farmers, integrators, and others affected by the loss of income. Business continuity is a high priority, which can be done best with everyone’s cooperation to comply with proper testing, permitting, and communication.
The best way to be proactive is for poultry farms to implement a state-approved biosecurity plan, which ensures that the best bio-secure measures will be followed, and also provides documentation that is needed to apply for movement permitting if a farm falls into an infected zone. State departments of agriculture and poultry universities are a great resource to look to for guidance with these documents.
This is a worldwide disease spread, causing issues in many countries and many states. A common misconception is that backyard birds are more immune because of access to the sunshine – this is a false narrative. The USDA data actually shows that there are more backyard bird flocks that have been affected than commercial flocks. There are no birds that are immune to this virus; it is affecting wild and domesticated fowl indiscriminately.
There is no estimate of time before the viral load slows down, and since the disease is carried by wildfowl, there is also no limit to its locational spread. The best defense against the virus is for poultry stakeholders to ensure their biosecurity plan is put into action each and every day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chloe Patrick serves as a contract and council director for PennAg. She manages the Poultry Council and six subcommittees in poultry as well as facilitating industry communication for poultry disease outbreaks and updates. PennAg is a proud partner of Westfield, a leading insurer that has been serving farmers for over 170 years.