Home Audio Avian influenza enters Iowa's egg industry

Avian influenza enters Iowa's egg industry

DES MOINES, Iowa – On Monday state officials announced the second outbreak of avian influenza in Iowa, this time in a large flock of laying hens in northwest Osceola county.

That’s a big deal; Iowa leads the nation in egg production, with an output almost twice as high as Ohio, the next biggest egg state. The infection means about four million layers need to be eradicated. That many birds represent about seven percent of Iowa’s laying hen population, and just above one percent of the national layer flock.

While disease control measures in egg operations are some of the tightest in the livestock industry, in spite of producers’ best efforts, Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey says avian flu is something of a wild card.

”The biosecurity that we focus on is biosecurity of bringing that disease on from another farm,” Northey explained Tuesday. “That’s feed trucks, and that’s people, and limiting the people that are coming on there. It’s really hard to limit wild birds landing on a shed someplace, or something else, and so I’m sure there are actions that folks are taking on those farms to limit exposure to wild birds, but that can be a pretty tough thing. There’s no shells over these farms.”

The current strain of avian influenza is not a known threat to human health, and despite the significant number of infected animals, Iowa Poultry Association Executive Director Randy Olson says consumer impact is likely to be small.

”I know this facility particularly produced liquid egg that would have ultimately ended up in baked goods on grocery-store shelves,” said Olson. In that case, the egg is only a minor component of the overall packaged price. So we wouldn’t expect to see a massive change as a result of this unfortunate circumstance”

Olson adds that the export market is only a small component of Iowa’s egg industry, meaning he doesn’t foresee significant international consequences just yet.

To hear more about the outbreak of avian influenza in an Iowan layer flock, click the audio player above this story.