A deadly avian flu outbreak is accelerating its spread across the US, so far killing 37 million chickens and turkeys in 32 states. At its current pace, the epidemic threatens by the end of May to surpass the last major outbreak in 2014-15, which cost an estimated $1 billion in damages.
The disease, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), is driving up costs for consumers and the food service industry. Wholesale chicken breast prices are currently up 27% to $3.25 a pound since February 8, when the first HPAI case was reported in the US. Egg prices have increased even more, by 45%.
Gro’s newly launched Bird Flu Outbreak Monitor enables users with a Starter Gro account to track the spread and severity of the disease as more flocks become infected. And Gro’s Poultry Market Resources page contains additional resources to help teams monitor the impact of the outbreak on their supply chains.
Safety protocols to prevent HPAI were beefed up after the 2014-15 outbreak, which was the largest farm animal epidemic in the US in terms of deaths and dollar losses. But those safety protocols have so far done little to slow the disease’s current spread.
In April, twice as many commercial flocks were infected, and had to be destroyed, as in the previous month. Most heavily hit are commercial poultry farms in Iowa.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the risk of human infection to be low. However, the agency last week reported the first known human case of HPAI infection in the US in a person working in the poultry industry in Colorado.
Chicken prices were already rocketing higher before the spread of HPAI, propelled by supply chain disruptions related to COVID and then by the economic upswing as quarantine restrictions were eased. Currently, wholesale chicken breast prices are up about 150% from two years ago, and are a key driver of US food-price inflation.
HPAI has so far affected 1.9% of all US chickens and about 7.5% of the US turkey flock. That’s a much faster rate of infection than in the 2014-15 outbreak, which in the same amount of time hit just 0.01% of the nation’s chickens.
The quicker spread of disease this time around threatens to overshadow the damages of the previous outbreak, which ultimately killed some 50 million birds, including 2.5% of the nation’s chickens, and affected poultry and egg prices for years.
Several countries have begun banning the import of chicken from roughly two dozen US states where bird flu outbreaks have occurred. Countries that have imposed import bans include China, Canada, & Mexico, which together account for half of US chicken exports. Similar restrictions were put in place during the 2014-15 epidemic, causing a 17% decline in annual exports.