Bird Flu Cases Probed in One of the Largest U.S. Chicken States

March 14, 2017 06:35 PM

Alabama, one of the leading U.S producers of chicken meat, is investigating suspected cases of bird flu in three northern poultry flocks and has introduced some restrictions on the transportation of birds.

A commercial chicken-breeding farm in Lauderdale County and a backyard flock in Madison County are among the facilities under investigation, the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries said in a statement Tuesday. The state is also probing a flea market in Jackson County and has issued an order limiting the movement of some poultry.

The move comes after one neighboring state, Tennessee, reported bird flu last week near the Alabama border. Highly pathogenic bird flu -- which can be deadly to domesticated poultry -- was found in a commercial chicken-breeder flock in Lincoln County on March 5. The farm was a supplier to Tyson Foods Inc., and the flock was destroyed to prevent the spread of the virus. Later last week, Tennessee said low-pathogenic bird flu, the less contagious form, was also found in a commercial poultry flock in Giles County.

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.

“Following the 2015 avian influenza outbreak in the Midwest, planning, preparation and extensive biosecurity efforts were escalated in Alabama,” John McMillan, Alabama’s commissioner of agriculture and industries, said in the statement. “Our staff is committed to staying actively involved in the avian influenza situation until any threats are addressed.”

The outbreaks pose a low risk to human health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

USDA Tests

The U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t yet confirmed the Alabama findings, according to Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Samples from two of the suspect cases are currently being tested at the agency’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, with the third expected to arrive Tuesday.

No significant mortality was found among the birds in the Lauderdale County commercial operation, Alabama’s agriculture department said. The detections were found during routine surveillance of poultry. Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said there are no known bird-flu cases on any of the farms that supply the company.

The order restricting movement of poultry in the state applies to bird traveling to flea markets, auctions and any types of exhibitions, according to Ray Hilburn, associate director of the Alabama Poultry & Egg Association.

South Korea banned imports of all U.S. poultry following the Tennessee bird-flu findings, according to its agriculture ministry. Other importing nations restricted imports from affected areas of the state, USDA data show.

Shares of poultry companies including Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. traded lower on Tuesday in New York. Alabama was the third-largest U.S. chicken-producing state by volume as of 2015, with output of 6.17 billion pounds, USDA data show.

Countries across Europe and Asia are also grappling with bird-flu outbreaks this year.

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