Cases of avian flu on rise

Commercial growers scrutinized for spread

The Michigan Department of Agriculture on Tuesday released a statement on the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial poultry facility from Newaygo County. Since the disease was first detected in Michigan in 2022, this is the seventh detection of HPAI in a commercial facility, and the first detection in Newaygo County. As wild birds complete their spring migration, it is crucial for every producer to protect their animals from wild birds and the germs they could be carrying.

Tuesday’s release came just four days after MDARD announced the detection of HPAI in dairy herds in three counties — Ionia, Isabella and Ottawa — bringing the total number of affected counties to four.

On March 29, MDARD announced the state’s first HPAI-positive dairy herd located in Montcalm County.

In an April 12 release, MDARD said, according to the USDA and the CDC, the commercial milk supply remains safe due to federal animal health requirements and pasteurization. Federal experts continue to stress there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply or that this circumstance poses any increased risk to consumer health. However, state officials issued warnings on the dangers of consuming raw milk.

On April 17, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and MDARD changed the previous statement and announced that the agencies are reminding residents of the risks associated with consuming raw (unpasteurized) milk amid the current HPAI outbreak affecting dairy cow herds. This virus has the potential to spread to humans, with one case reported this year in Texas.

In the April 12 release, MDARD Director Tim Boring is quoted as saying: “What is happening with HPAI in Michigan mirrors what is happening in states across the country. This virus does not stop at county or state lines, which is why we must all be on high alert.”

According to the Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, a nonprofit statewide trade organization representing Michigan’s egg, chicken and turkey farmers, commercial facilities in Michigan include egg, broiler and turkey production. They report there are 20 broiler farms, 17 egg farms, held by eight farm owners, with a combined 15 million birds. While the organization did not include the number of turkey farms in the state, it reported that the annual turkey production in Michigan is 5.3 million birds.

Farm Action, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policy that restricts the ability for large corporations to operate in the food and agriculture sectors, suggests that commercial poultry facilities are as much to blame for HPAI outbreaks as wild birds.

On Thursday, Farm Action published an article in which it stated industrial conditions create optimal circumstances for large-scale disease outbreaks because crowded indoor facilities allow infectious pathogens to spread more readily. These dangerous conditions are the standard practice for industrial poultry production:

“As United Egg Producers readily admits, their egg-laying hens are housed ‘in stacked rows of cages,'” Farm Action stated.

While this practice makes the birds vulnerable to disease outbreaks, it also cuts input costs for companies on the front end, Farm Aid says. But how is HPAI spreading to cattle?

Farm Aid says experts point to a type of cattle feed additive called poultry litter, a mix of poultry excrement and feathers scraped from the floors of industrial poultry production plants.

“While other countries have regulated feeding animal proteins to cattle due to disease spread concerns,” Farm Aid states, “this cheap feed is perfectly legal in the U.S.”

Farm Aid referenced The Telegraph, a British daily broadsheet newspaper, considered conservative. On April 9, the Telegraph stated that in Britain and Europe, American farmers are still allowed to feed cattle and other farm animals ground-up waste from other animals including birds. Experts are unsure, the Telegraph says, but fear it could be the poultry litter feed used in the U.S. that has passed on the virus to cattle. Poultry litter is not only cheaper than other food sources like soy and grains but is also more calorie-dense, meaning farmers can bulk up their herds much more quickly.

So far, reports the Telegraph, infected cattle have been identified in Texas, Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, New Mexico and Michigan.

The Telegraph went on to state that according to the FDA, the practice is safe: “With respect to pathogenic microorganisms, drug residues and contaminants in poultry litter, FDA is not aware of any data showing that the use of poultry litter in cattle feed is posing human or animal health risks that warrant restrictions on its use,” a spokesperson is quoted as saying.


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