Bird flu: Huge Iowa egg farm infected, Hormel expects lower turkey sales

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The avian flu outbreak among livestock producers in the upper Midwest continues to grow, with developments in several states Monday.

The outbreaks have cost turkey and chicken producers nearly 7.8 million birds since March. The H5N2 strain of avian flu is highly contagious among birds, but authorities stress that it poses very little risk to human health.

Iowa

Some 5.3 million chickens are being euthanized at an Iowa farm because of exposure to the virus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday.

The farm, located in northwest Iowa, has nearly 10 percent of the state's egg-laying hens, according to CNN. Iowa is the largest egg-producing state in the nation. It's the first outbreak of the highly contagious virus among Iowa's chicken farms, although one turkey farm was affected last week.

At this point, the outbreak isn't expected to have an impact on egg prices. But if it spreads to many more chickens, consumers will likely see prices go up, the Associated Press reports.

Minnesota

At least one more turkey farm in Minnesota has been confirmed with the H5N2 virus Monday, the AP reports.

This farm is in Kandiyohi County in west central Minnesota, and had 23,000 birds. It's the sixth farm to be infected in Kandiyohi county, which is the top turkey-producing county in the state, according to the Associated Press.

The USDA says 28 turkey farms in Minnesota have now been affected by the illness.

Minnesota-based Hormel Foods, which sells turkey products under the Jennie-O brand, said Monday it will sell less turkey this year because of the flu outbreak. Jennie-O said so far the virus has hit 17 flocks owned or processed by the company, including those being raised by contractors or independent farmers.

"We test all of our flocks for influenza prior to processing," the company said in a statement on its website. "No birds diagnosed with [the virus] are allowed to enter the food chain."

The company said it's "experiencing significant challenges in our turkey supply chain" due to the outbreak, adding that its earnings this year may be a bit lower than originally forecast because of lower turkey sales.

Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker has declared a state of emergency due to the avian flu outbreak, authorizing the National Guard to help authorities respond to the outbreak in Jefferson, Juneau and Barron counties. That includes helping with the response and clean up once the infected birds are killed.

"We must act quickly and efficiently to contain the outbreak and protect domestic poultry," Governor Walker said.

About a dozen Guard troops will be made available, at the request of the state veterinarian. Walker said he's using National Guard personnel because federal resources are stretched thin due to the virus outbreak in so many states.

Ag officials in Wisconsin say three flocks have been infected with the virus so far, affecting tens of thousands of birds.

Where's it coming from?

Scientists are still trying to figure out why the avian flu has been spreading so quickly from farm to farm. MPR News takes a look at various theories that researchers are investigating.

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