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Bird Flu Found at Tennessee Chicken Farm Affiliated With Tyson -- Update

5 Mar 2017 9:26 pm
By Jacob Bunge 

The first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza to strike a commercial poultry flock in more than a year has been found on a Tennessee chicken farm affiliated with Tyson Foods Inc., government and company officials confirmed Sunday.

The flock of about 73,500 birds, which had been used for breeding, was being destroyed to prevent the disease from spreading further, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said in a statement Sunday. The investigations began after the Tennessee Department of Agriculture on Friday was notified of higher-than-normal deaths at the Lincoln County, Tenn., farm, which produced chickens under a contract with Tyson, officials said.

None of the affected chickens will enter the food supply, according to the USDA. Recent avian influenza outbreaks haven't posed a health risk to humans, federal officials have 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," said a spokesman for Tyson, the largest U.S. meat company by sales. All of Tyson's U.S. poultry operations are operating under stricter biosecurity measures due to bird flu incidents in 2015, he said.

The finding comes as bird flu outbreaks have struck farms across Europe and Asia in recent months. The U.S. poultry industry has remained largely unaffected since weathering the country's worst-ever bout with the disease in 2015, leading to the deaths of more than 50 million chickens and turkeys.

"With this [avian influenza] detection, we are moving quickly and aggressively to prevent the virus from spreading," Tennessee State Veterinarian Dr. Charles Hatcher said in a statement. About 30 other poultry farms within 6 miles of the affected farm have been quarantined, according to Tennessee agriculture officials.

Amid the 2015 outbreak, U.S. chicken, turkey and egg processors invested in new biosecurity measures and took other precautions, like strictly limiting visits by suppliers and others to farms, to stem the disease's spread. A case of highly pathogenic avian influenza confirmed last year on an Indiana turkey farm proved to be a one-off, with no other U.S. cases confirmed since then, according to the Tennessee state officials.

The flu strain detected in the Tennessee flock, classified as H7, is different than the one that drove the 2015 outbreak, they said. While the source remained unclear Sunday, the flu strain was confirmed as one previously detected in wild birds in North America.

The 2015 outbreak cost the U.S. poultry and egg industry $386 million in exports as foreign countries placed restrictions on shipments of U.S. meat, eggs and chicken feet, according to the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. Those restrictions also served to build up U.S. meat inventories, contributing to lower domestic prices, analysts said.

Write to Jacob Bunge at jacob.bunge@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 05, 2017 16:26 ET (21:26 GMT)

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