Deadly Bird Flu Found at Tennessee Chicken Farm That Supplies Tyson

By and Shruti Singh | March 6, 2017

A deadly form of bird flu has been confirmed in a southern Tennessee operation that supplies Tyson Foods Inc. with chickens, marking the first U.S. case at a commercial farm this year and prompting South Korea to ban imports of American poultry.

Highly-pathogenic H7 avian influenza, or HPAI, was found in a breeding flock of 73,500 chickens in Lincoln County, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement Sunday. The site has been placed under quarantine and the flock will be destroyed to prevent the disease’s spread. No birds will enter the food system, the agency said.

“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,” Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson, the largest U.S. chicken producer, said in an email Monday.

Tennessee borders several of the nation’s largest chicken-meat producing states, including Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina. The virus is believed to spread partly by migratory wild birds, posing the risk that it may reach other farms.

The virus is believed to spread partly by migratory wild birds, posing the risk that it may reach other farms.

The U.S. southeast was largely spared during the last major U.S. 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. HPAI was found once last year at an Indiana turkey farm.

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Previous outbreaks have led some nations to restrict shipments of poultry from affected areas. South Korea’s agriculture ministry said Monday it banned shipments of poultry and eggs from the U.S. unless they’ve been heat treated. The Asian nation is already facing surging egg prices and has culled almost 34 million birds amid a domestic bird-flu outbreak. While poultry producers across Europe and Asia have also been grappling with the virus in recent months, Brazil, the world’s largest chicken exporter, has so far remained untouched.

Tyson fell 3.9 percent to $61.13 at 10:37 a.m. in New York. Rival U.S. chicken producer Sanderson Farms Inc. dropped 3.4 percent and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. was down 2.3 percent. Brazilian producer BRF SA rose as much as 4.3 percent in Sao Paulo. The company may benefit from the latest U.S. outbreak, Itau BBA’s analyst Antonio Barreto said in note.

Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson said all flocks within a six-mile radius of the Tennessee farm will be tested and won’t be transported unless they test negative for the virus. Since 2015’s outbreaks, the company’s U.S. poultry operations have been operating under increased biosecurity measures, including not allowing non-essential visitors access to contract farms and disinfecting vehicles to prevent spreading the virus.

Pilgrim’s Pride has activated response plans with “heightened on-farm biosecurity programs” at all of its facilities, even though none of the company’s operations are located in the area under quarantine, spokesman Cameron Bruett said Monday in an email.

Sanderson Farms has no assets in Tennessee but is “implementing heightened biosecurity measures across the company,” Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell said in an email Monday. Perdue Farms Inc., another large U.S. producer, has no live production in Tennessee, spokeswoman Andrea Staub said in an email.

The latest discovery of HPAI is the first in Tennessee, according to the state’s agriculture department. The highly pathogenic form of the virus can be fatal to domesticated chickens and turkeys. About 30 nearby poultry farms are also under quarantine, although none have reported an increase in mortality, the department said.

“Animal health is our top priority,” Charles Hatcher, Tennessee’s state veterinarian, said in a statement. “With this HPAI detection, we are moving quickly and aggressively to prevent the virus from spreading.”

The U.S. is expected to produce a record 41.081 billion pounds of chicken this year, the USDA forecasts.

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