According to the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission June 19, breeder chickens on a farm in a Scott County, Ark., tested positive for H7N7 low pathogenic avian influenza. Commission personnel quarantined all poultry within a 6.2-mile radius.
A release from Gov. Mike Beebe’s office says chickens often contract avian flu through infected waterfowl or water contaminated by waterfowl. Livestock and Poultry officials believe recent flooding in Scott County contributed to the transmission. Additional testing will be carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The presence of H7N7 antibodies was discovered during testing conducted by Tyson Foods. Krista Cupp with Tyson Foods public relations says the flock of 9,000 birds was euthanized as a precautionary measure and no infected poultry will enter the human food chain. “As an additional preventative measure, Tyson has heightened its biosecurity measures and surveillance of avian influenza. We plan to test all area breeder farms that serve the company, as well as any contract broiler farms within a six-mile radius of the affected farm,” Cupp says.
The Arkansas Department of Health says the positive test poses no public health threat. Avian flu cannot be transmitted to people through the consumption of properly prepared poultry. However, Japan and Russia have banned Arkansas poultry from importation as a result of the findings.
Poultry is one of Arkansas’ top exports. Preston Scroggin, director of the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission, says 47 percent of the state’s agriculture dollars come from poultry. Tyson, Butterball and Pilgrim’s Pride poultry producers, along with many more, are based in the state. Tyson says that despite the ban, it will continue to meet the needs of its customers in Japan and Russia with products from plants in other states.
A ban could cost the state millions. Early reportes indicated that China had banned Arkansas poultry as well, but Scroggin says it hasn’t happened—yet. “I have not had confirmation on China, so I guess we’re still good there,” he says. China lifted a ban earlier this year on Arkansas poultry after an outbreak in the state in 2008.
Avian flu has been a concern in China recently after an outbreak of a different strand of influenza—H7N9—forced the euthanasia of thousands of poultry and closed wholesale and live public poultry markets in April. The World Health Organization confirmed 132 human cases from the outbreak, including 37 deaths. The H7N7 strand is a milder strand and seems to be contained to a single farm.
Heightened concern about avian flu across the globe has Tyson publicizing its testing program, which Cupps says involves the company checking all flocks for avian influenza before they leave the farm. Test results are known before the birds are shipped to a Tyson plant for processing.
Scroggin says the first round of comprehensive tests from the quarantined area are finished and came back negative. Officials will now begin the decontamination process at the farm where H7N7 was identified. Scroggin is hopeful that with negative returns on testing the bans will be lifted. “Everything’s looking good,” he says.