Avian Influenza confirmed in Boone County turkey flock, exports banned

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 334 views 

The H5N2 “bird flu” strain has now been found in a Butterball turkey farm in Boone County. It’s been 11 years since the highly pathogenic strain of Avian Influenza has been found in commercial poultry flocks in the U.S.

After increased mortality on a Boone County Farm the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission performed tests that were confirmed by federal labs in Aimes, Iowa, on Tuesday (March 10). The tests showed the H5N2 virus present on the Boone County turkey farm.

Bruce Holland executive director for the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission., said immediate steps were taken when the lab results were known.

“We are taking this quite seriously. The entire flock on the infected farm will be depopulated and within a 3-kilometer radius a quarantine has been put in place to restrict the traffic to and from all poultry farms. Individual companies are responsible for enforcing the quarantine protocol,” Holland said in a statement.

He said this is first time a high pathogen virus has been detected in the state’s commercial poultry flocks. The virus is transported through migrant birds, namely geese and ducks. Holland said the state’s entire poultry industry has been on high alert since the H5N2 was discovered in neighboring Missouri two weeks ago. He said there is no threat to humans, but the viruses can be devastating to the industry.

A zone 2 radius was set up in a six-mile radius around the affected area. In this area Holland said every backyard flock will be tested and then retested 10 days later. Zone 3 which a broader area also requires backyard flocks be tested.

Cargill, which also has turkey operations in Missouri and Arkansas, implemented its avian influenza protocols last week when Missouri officials reported positive tests for H5N2.

“Our AI protocols include stepped up sanitation of vehicles and equipment and we have restricted movement of eggs, poults, adult turkeys, feed, litter and related materials,” noted Mike Martin, director of communications for Cargill. “We have been cooperating and working with state and federal agencies, trade associations, farms that grow our turkeys, suppliers, industry peers, customers and other important stakeholders to keep them informed and take whatever actions are necessary to contain H5N2. We are monitoring the situation closely.”

The company said a turkey flock that tested positive in Fortuna, Mo., will be “depopulated” by Thursday (March 12). Almost 80 other Cargill farms in the 12-mile test radius did not show an H5N2 positive.

“While there is a high mortality rate among infected flocks, sick turkeys never get to our processing plants and, therefore, all turkey meat for sale is safe from AI. This is not a food safety issue – it is an animal wellbeing issue,” Martin noted in the statement.

Export contracts that contact certain triggers relating to Avian Influenza detection have shut off trade with more than 40 countries since this strain was first found earlier this year in the Pacific Northwest.

Toby Moore, spokesman for the U.S Egg & Poultry Export Council, said some countries like China ban the entire nation’s poultry exports from eggs to breeding stock and the chicken or turkey itself. He said other countries like Hong Kong restrict the ban to the county level and others like Mexico restrict to the state level. 

“It’s simply too early to know the true impact of the H5N2 detection in U.S. flocks. Every time there is a new confirmation the clock resets itself,” Moore said.

At the very minimum the discovery of Avian Influenza, especially a high pathogen strain, causes disruptions in exports for the entire poultry industry that recorded $5.501 billion in sales abroad last year, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service.

Moore said even large companies like Tyson Foods can’t always easily work around export bans restricted at the state or county level even though they may have plants in states that are not banned. He said each plant performs certain operations and not all of them are equipped or certified for export.

Moore said the H2N5 strain was tracked from Eurasia that followed the Pacificline flight pattern of migrant birds. It then moved along the Mississippi flyway which brought the virus to the south from Minnesota to Missouri and Arkansas.

“This doesn’t happen very often. It’s a random thing, a game of chance and it was just our time in the barrel. The industry does a good job with bio-security year round and follows the protocol in place one a region goes on alert,” Moore said.

Springdale-based Tyson Foods the largest poultry company in the U.S., based in Arkansas, said that no flocks grown for Tyson Foods have been diagnosed with avian influenza. 

“There are always biosecurity measures in place on poultry farms and we've been even more diligent since AI has been in the U.S. this winter,” said Worth Sparkman, spokesman for Tyson Foods.

Siloam Springs-based Simmons Foods did not respond to a request for comment.