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Carcass Concerns: Possible Fall Return of Bird Flu

Another outbreak of avian influenza could hit this fall, after nearly 50-million birds were lost with the spring eruption of the disease. Credit: Bart Sadowski.
Another outbreak of avian influenza could hit this fall, after nearly 50-million birds were lost with the spring eruption of the disease. Credit: Bart Sadowski.
September 14, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. – As the poultry industry in Minnesota and across the Midwest works to rebound from the spring outbreak of avian influenza, there are predictions that another round of the disease will hit this fall.

Dale Wiehoff, director of communications for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says while it's still unclear how the disease became so widespread, he notes that avian influenza will likely become a permanent part of industrial poultry production.

"The model of industrial poultry production that we have confines thousands of birds together that have the same genetic makeup, getting the same food and the same water,” he explains. “So it is really ripe for the spread of disease once it gets inside a facility."

Nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys in the U.S. were lost in the spring outbreak of the H5N2 strain of avian influenza, including 9 million in Minnesota alone.

With that unprecedented number of dead birds, Wiehoff says there needs to be a serious review of the safety of the methods of disposal, including incineration, burial and composting.

"The risk is if all of the virus isn't killed in the compost process, it could be just spread out on the field and contaminating and infecting other birds,” he points out. “And worse, the possibility of the virus mutating and spreading to humans and other animals."

Wiehoff says the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service just launched a review of how to handle the carcasses from any future outbreaks, which could include prearranged disposal sites.


John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN