April 2015 – HEALTH – Poultry producers in several states are bracing for more losses as a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza forced producers to kill millions of chickens and turkeys in the USA in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that turkeys at four more commercial facilities–three in Minnesota and one in South Dakota–were confirmed to be infected with the fast moving H5N2 virus. The agency estimated that more than 390,000 turkeys between the plant would be lost to the disease or have to be euthanized as a precaution to prevent spread of the virus. The latest cases come one day after USDA officials announced that H5N2 was found at a chicken laying facility in Osceola County, Iowa. Some 3.8 million layer hens at the farm affiliated with Sonstegard Foods Company will be euthanized to try to prevent the spread of the disease, according to the company.
The USDA had initially estimated that 5.3 million hens were affected. But the company has since confirmed that it was operating below capacity at the time avian flu was detected at its Iowa farm, said USDA spokeswoman Joelle Hayden. “We went to great lengths to prevent our birds from contracting AI (avian influenza), but despite best efforts we now confirm many of our birds are testing positive for AI,” the South Dakota-based Sonstegard Foods said in a statement. Meanwhile, mega turkey producer Hormel Food Corp. confirmed that avian flu is causing significant supply chain problems in its Jennie-O Turkey Store segment as 17 turkey flocks owned or processed by the company have been hit by avian flu. In addition to losing turkeys, those affected facilities are also quarantined, so they can undergo thorough cleanings. Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger warned investors on Monday that the avian flu problem will likely result in company falling on the lower-end of its projected earnings target of $2.50 to $2.60 per share.
“While Jennie-O Turkey Store has delivered strong financial performance so far in the first half, tight meat supplies and operational challenges will pressure earnings in the back half of our fiscal year,” Ettinger said. He added that company believes it will maintain its earnings target “on the assumption that farm outbreak occurrences will decline as the weather improves, but expect turkey supply challenges to push our full year earnings toward the lower end of this range.” Until Monday’s announcement that the Iowa facility was stricken, Minnesota—the nation’s biggest turkey producer and home to Hormel—had been the hardest hit with the virus hitting more than two dozen turkey flocks. Already, turkey growers in the state have lost more 2 million turkeys, since the H5N2 strain was first confirmed in early March in Pope County. –USA Today