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Optimistic View About the Battle Against Bird Flu

Greg Tyler considers himself an optimist. “I’m a glass half full type of guy,” he told American Farmland Owner from his home in Georgia.

A conversation from home wasn’t part of the day’s plans. His office internet glitched. So, he had to adjust. Of course, he has been adjusting the past two years ever since he took over as president and CEO of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

The council’s website describes part of its mission like this: “USAPEEC has evolved from an association whose major purpose was the promotion of U.S. poultry and egg products through its network of 16 international offices and consultants to an organization that advocates for the industry on trade policy issues. Despite this, USAPEEC has never strayed from its roots as a promotional organization. Throughout the world, USAPEEC touts the high quality of American poultry and egg products.”

The mission must also include responding to crises.

“There's certain things that are completely out of your control,” Tyler said.

Amen to that. One of the most vile, four-letter words has tormented his day-to-day, almost since day one in this role: H-P-A-I.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, a.k.a. bird flu, has torn through the poultry industry like an enemy possessed. Producers have had to cull tens of millions of birds. Nearly 90 million birds either died or were destroyed.

Tyler’s friends in the dairy industry now feel the virus’ venom. They call for advice.

Bird flu hasn’t had the same devastating effects on dairy cattle, fortunately. But its spread to dairy herds has worsened. Wyoming became the 12th state to report an infected dairy herd. The virus’ potential mutation adds to concerns.  

Are vaccines a solution? Perhaps, but it is complicated. U.S. producers look overseas to see how their counterparts handled the virus.

French health officials set out to vaccinate 64 million ducks, since ducks can be highly susceptible to avian flu. Poultry World cited this progress:

“By mid-March, the French authorities had registered 10 cases of high pathogenic avian influenza since the first detection on 27 November 2023. Just to compare, in the same period in 2022/23, the number of cases was 315 while in previous winters it often exceeded 3,000.”

That is a significant reduction and a serious sign of progress.

RELATED: Here is the full article from Poultry World, which also looks at declining bird flu cases in Germany and Belgium.

But vaccinating 64 million birds twice (they each need two doses for increased effectiveness) is costly. The effort cost about $108 million.  

The poultry industry is far bigger in the United States. If chickens, turkeys, and ducks could all be at risk for bird flu, producers could need to increase the vaccinations ten-fold.

The price tag could be staggering for the industry. Would federal taxpayers pick up the cost?

And even if officials figured out a way, how would they handle global concerns. Some countries would not accept meat from vaccinated birds. That could dramatically limit U.S. exports and force prices down for producers who might already be dealing with increased costs to deal with the virus.

A decade ago, the USDA stockpiled bird flu vaccines but chose not to use it. Vox looked at the reasons why, along with the myriad hurdles the U.S. could have if it vaccinated birds and tried to export the meat. Read that report here. 

That’s enough to strain anyone’s optimism. But not Tyler. He doesn’t deny the magnitude of the challenges for the poultry industry – and potentially the dairy industry now, too – but he insists that better days are coming.

“Constantly working with your counterparts,” Tyler said. “And we work closely with the National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, United Egg Producers, American Egg Board, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. There's a lot of associations involved with the poultry industry.”

Tyler added, “I may not have all the answers, but collectively we can come together and try to figure out a path.”

DINNER DISTRACTION: The U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council also provides “Cain’s Corner,” a combination of recipes by registered dietician Mary Alice Cain like Duck Bacon Frittata, Spatchcock Chicken, and Turkey Apple Meatballs. Find those here.


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