Tyson Foods ‘responding aggressively’ to avian influenza at a grower farm

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 371 views 

A grower farm in south central Tennessee contracted with Tyson Foods tested positive for a strain of bird flu over the weekend. Tyson said the farm’s 73,000 birds would be culled from the supply chain to ensure the virus does not enter the food system.

“We’re addressing a form of avian influenza on a single contract chicken farm in Tennessee. It’s a bird health issue and not a food safety or human health concern,” Tyson corporate spokesman Gary Mickelson said. “We’re responding aggressively, and are working with state and federal officials to contain the virus by euthanizing chickens located on the farm. This not only prevents the potential spread of disease, it is more humane for the infected birds. All flocks located within a six-mile radius of the farm will be tested and will not be transported unless they test negative for the virus. Based on the limited scope known to us at this time, we don’t expect disruptions to our chicken business and plan to meet our customers’ needs.”

Though Tyson said it doesn’t expect the situation to disrupt its chicken business, the company’s stock (NYSE: TSN) took a dive in early Monday trading but clawed back some of the loss by late afternoon. About an hour before the markets closed, shares were trading at $62, down a little more than 2.5%. During the past 52 weeks the share price has ranged from a $77.05 high to a $55.72 low.

Tyson Foods said it takes these threats seriously and out of an abundance of caution, the company tests all company-owned flocks for the virus before they leave the farm so the results are known before the birds are processed. It is also Tyson’s policy to immediately quarantine farms where affected birds are found.

Approximately 30 other Tennessee poultry farms within a 6.2 mile radius of the infected site are quarantined and being tested.

Earlier this year, federal farm authorities detected bird flu in a wild duck in Montana linked to the strains of the most recent outbreak (2014 and 2015), which impacted roughly 50 million laying hens, impacting the egg supply. The broiler meat industry has experienced export bans from various infections over the past five years, though none to the level seen by the egg industry.

Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes was recently asked if he saw avian influenza as a threat given several different strains were confirmed in France and South Korea, two large poultry markets. Hayes said the company is well aware of the risks tied to avian influenza and uses the highest level of biosecurity in its poultry operations. Those precautions include eliminating non-essential visitor access to its contracted farms and maintaining proper disinfection of vehicles entering farms as well as using biosecurity uniforms for all farm visitors. There is also careful attention paid to foot-wear disinfectants being used by everyone who comes to the farm.

Tyson Foods also reiterates that in the U.S., bird flu is a not food safety concern, despite that in other markets like China, there have been a few deaths linked to an outbreak of the H7N9 strain of flu. That’s primarily because the U.S. commercial poultry industry keeps birds housed inside a facility and poultry is not allowed to mingle with wild birds, that carry the viruses.

Tyson Foods also said in the unlikely event any chickens affected by avian influenza were ever processed, there is no evidence to suggest any form of the virus can be transmitted to human through properly cooked poultry.