“The avian influenza virus that we are dealing with now is a relatively new strain. At this point, it does not appear to affect humans. It’s low-risk to humans and there are currently no known human cases of avian influenza. It’s not really a human health issue, and it’s not a food safety issue,” Dr. Oedekoven said. “It’s important to note that no poultry and egg products in the grocery store have come from barns that were impacted by avian influenza. This should not be a concern at all for consumers” [Amanda Radke, “Avian Influenza Is Not a Risk to the Food Supply,” KELO-AM, 2015.05.29].
Then the Farm Bureau steps into the same story and mixes the message:
“I would like to stress that this is not a human health or food safety issue, but the lives and businesses of many individuals are being impacted by avian influenza,” said Scott VanderWal, family farmer from Volga, S.D. and President of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “It’s a terrible disruption, not only to these businesses and families, but also the food supply chain, and it may affect food prices down the road. As Farm Bureau members, we can help by reassuring the public that this is not a food safety issue” [Radke, 2015.05.29].
Bird flu isn’t a risk to the food supply, but it’s a terrible disruption?
I think our state and industry leaders are trying to say that you won’t get sick from eating eggs… not just because people don’t catch this flu, but because you may find it harder to buy eggs:
Prices paid by wholesalers and retail stores jumped above $2 for a dozen large eggs. A week earlier, they were about $1.50 a dozen, according to the USDA’s weekly egg market news report.
“We’re talking about an egg price story that’s just beginning to unfold,” said Scott Brown, agriculture economist at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The surge, however, doesn’t mean grocery store shoppers are going to see an immediate increase in prices. In the short term, it’s more likely to mean fewer sales. That could change, though, if those wholesale prices remain high for an extended period, Brown said [Tim Barker, “Effect of Bird Flu on Egg Prices No Yolk,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2015.05.29].
And actually, there is a roundabout public health risk:
The good news is the current avian flu outbreak has been contained to just birds so far…but there’s still a public health risk, even if it doesn’t spread to humans: Eggs are also used to make vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella. Eggs are also used to make vaccines for diseases like influenza…meaning this coming flu season could be one for the birds [Aaron Task, “Bird Flu Egg-Splained: The Impact Goes Far Beyond Your Breakfast Table,” Yahoo Finance, 2015.05.27].
(Vaccine shortage? Ah, so bird flu is really an anti-vaxer plot.)
With millions of birds across the state in corporate clucker CAFOs, state vet Oedekoven takes time to single out the handful of backyard chicken growers for caution:
All poultry is potentially susceptible to this virus, Dr. Oedekoven noted, and there are some considerations owners of backyard chicken flocks should consider to keep their birds healthy.
“Avian influenza has been found in some backyard flocks across the country, but there haven’t been any cases in South Dakota,” Dr. Oedekoven said. “From a disease-control standpoint, all poultry exhibitions will be suspended until further notice. If owners are concerned about avian influenza, they should contact the state veterinarian office immediately. We have received a number of calls, but in all cases we haven’t found any avian influenza present. I encourage owners to look for other causes of health concerns in cooperation with their local veterinarian” [Radke, 2015.05.29].
At least this story puts the backyard chickens at the bottom; otherwise, I’d be concerned that our industry-oriented state animal health pros are adopting the ideological paranoia of the SDGOP spin blog that prefers to fret over rugged individuals exercising their food and property rights to raise a few chickens in their backyard than sound the alarm over the unsanitary, crowded conditions of corporate poultry farms.