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Bird Flu Menaces U.S. Chicken Industry Already Struggling to Grow

© Reuters.

(Bloomberg) — American poultry farmers were already struggling to boost production before deadly avian influenza started popping up for the first time in several years.

From the Covid-19 outbreak two years ago to abnormally cold weather that knocked out power on farms in 2021, producers of chicken and turkey have not been able to hatch enough birds, sending prices for both poultry and eggs soaring. Detection of bird flu, most recently on a Kentucky farm that supplies top U.S. chicken producer Tyson Foods Inc (NYSE:TSN)., is the latest disruption that is threatening to keep poultry supplies tight. 

“Once a flock gets it, it’s a death sentence,” said Russ Whitman, senior vice president at commodity researcher Urner Barry. “It’s all about the spread and we simply don’t know enough about that. It’s a wait and see.” 

”The buyers of the world are already keenly aware of the challenges they’re up against in 2022 in just getting the supply that they need.”

Tyson said it was heightening biosecurity measures including restrictions on visitors to nearby farms after the deadly bird flu strain was detected. 

“Because the affected farm in Kentucky is only one of the thousands of farms that raise chickens for our company, the situation is not expected to impact our overall chicken production levels,” Tyson said in a statement.

Tyson and other meat companies have been under pressure from the Biden Administration for turning huge profits even as consumers pay near-record prices for meat. 

The weather isn’t helping: drought in Brazil is shrinking the soybean harvest and raising feed prices. Harsh winter recently in states including Arkansas and Virginia also hit poultry production, similarly to the abnormal cold snap a year ago that killed hundreds of thousands of chickens.

“There’s a lot of weather issues that have occurred,” Bob Brown, an independent market consultant in Edmond, Oklahoma, said by phone. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier in February scaled back its production outlook for broiler chickens this year, due in part to high feed costs. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

Bird Flu Menaces U.S. Chicken Industry Already Struggling to Grow

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