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May 29, 2024

Avian Flu Outbreak Decimates California Poultry Farms

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Jan 8, 2024

A highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak has led to the deaths and culling of over 5.5 million birds across California, devastating poultry farms in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Outbreak Origins and Spread

The outbreak likely originated from migratory waterfowl carrying the virus this winter. HPAI has now spread to over 350 premises in 47 counties across California. Sonoma and Marin have been hit the hardest, with over 2 million egg-laying chickens euthanized.

This table shows the number of infected premises and birds affected in some of the most impacted counties:

County Infected Premises Birds Affected
Sonoma 92 2.13 million
Stanislaus 79 1.9 million
Merced 32 600,000
Kings 29 540,000
Marin 20 350,000

The H5N1 avian flu strain causing this outbreak is highly infectious and fatal for domestic poultry. Over 90% of infected chickens will die from the virus. Wild birds can carry HPAI without appearing sick, allowing it to spread rapidly.

Egg Shortages and Price Increases

With millions of egg-laying hens lost, the outbreak has led to egg shortages and price hikes across California. Prices have doubled from $1.70 per dozen last month to $3-4 per dozen now. Shortages may continue for 6-12 months until flocks can rebuild.

Some stores are limiting egg purchases. The drastic reduction in California’s egg supply – normally providing 1 out of every 6 eggs consumed nationally – will also impact the rest of the country. Egg prices are forecast to rise an additional 20-30% nationwide.

Small Farms At Risk

For small poultry farmers with backyard flocks of just a few hundred birds, this outbreak threatens their very livelihoods. “We’re hardly making it as is,” said Marisa Sol, owner of Sol Family Farm with 300 chickens. “This could bankrupt my farm.”

Sonoma and Marin counties have a long history of small, family-owned poultry farms. But the combination of avian flu, rising feed costs, and increasing competition from industrial-scale operations is jeopardizing that legacy.

Efforts To Contain The Virus

State and federal authorities have established quarantine zones restricting poultry transport in parts of California to contain the outbreak. They are also conducting surveillance testing of commercial flocks and backyard poultry.

Farmers are being instructed to increase biosecurity measures like thoroughly washing hands and truck tires, restricting site access, and isolating any birds appearing sick.

Vaccines are not yet available as the H5N1 virus continues evolving too quickly. Officials hope drier and warmer weather ending migration season will help halt spread.

This is the worst avian flu outbreak since 2015 when 50 million birds across 15 states were lost. Authorities warn continued viral evolution raises the risk of even larger outbreaks.

Financial Assistance Needed

The losses are staggering for affected poultry producers. J.S. West representatives estimate damages could reach $170 million just for their operations.

With outbreaks reoccurring annually since 2020, economists say “emergency relief funding is critical for rebuilding flocks.” Aid is needed especially by small farmers to remain financially viable through these disruptions. Some assistance was provided after outbreaks in 2022 and 2023, but far greater support will be necessary this year if small poultry farms are to survive.

Looking Ahead

Authorities predict the outbreak worsening through March until warmer weather helps curb spread. But uncertainties remain regarding viral mutations and if new fall migrations could spawn additional outbreaks.

Poultry producers face massive losses and months of rebuilding flocks. Consumers must brace for ongoing egg shortages and budgeting greater costs. And politicians need to appreciate the crisis confronting California’s historic poultry industry and provide substantial assistance.

With farms already teetering financially, this avian flu outbreak may deliver the final blow that drives many small producers out of business for good. Support through this turmoil is desperately needed to save these family farms and preserve local food security for the future.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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