Poultry Researchers, Department of Agriculture Officials Monitoring Nationwide Wave Of Bird Flu
A wave of avian influenza, also known as bird flu, has forced many United States poultry farmers to depopulate their flocks.
If detected here, the virus could pose a problem for West Virginia’s economy. Chicken is the state’s number one agricultural commodity, generating around $300 million annually for the state.
“West Virginia produces close to two million birds per week,” said Joe Moritz, professor and researcher of poultry science at West Virginia University. “And if this would infect some of these commercial houses, we have to have complete depopulation. So we lose all those birds, all that time and money and investment.”
Moritz says the virus could affect the amount of poultry products that can be put on shelves. Poultry farms in West Virginia primarily produce birds used for meat. If local farms are infected, the cost of chicken or turkey at grocery stores and restaurants could see high price increases.
Egg prices have also increased nationwide. A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the cost of eggs has tripled since November. Moritz says the flu’s effect on egg producers is especially worrying.
“The egg laying industry is much different than the meat bird industry,” Moritz said. “Meat birds might be around for 35 to 42 days, but these egg producers, they can be around for a lot longer – a year, a year and a half. So you're gonna get a lot more out of those birds.”
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture is monitoring the situation and educating poultry producers about the proper ways to test for and contain the disease in case an outbreak in West Virginia does happen. Department representative Crescent Gallagher says they are well-prepared for any potential outbreak.
“If there was an outbreak, we would be one of the first responders to that operation and dealing with avian influenza,” Gallagher said. “We would go through the proper procedures for depopulating infected poultry, as well as containing the area around it and push out more information to producers.”