(Adds export market information, investigation details, impact
on U.S. poultry industry)
By P.J. Huffstutter
April 24 An avian-borne virus outbreak on a
California quail farm has fueled fears that the disease known as
bird flu could spread, prompting investigators to continue their
probe and five key export markets to bar imports of poultry from
A state diagnostic laboratory confirmed on April 18 that a
quail flock in Stanislaus County, California, tested positive
for low-pathogenic avian influenza virus. It was later confirmed
by a federal laboratory.
The virus, which commonly occurs in wild birds, is not
considered a human health concern.
Yet news of the virus - particularly in a state that is home
to two leading container ports heavily used for agricultural
exports - has some of the world's largest U.S. poultry consumers
scrambling to protect themselves.
On Thursday, Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety announced a
ban on the import of all poultry and poultry produced from
Stanislaus County. Taiwan, too, has blocked chicken imports from
California, while Japan has banned poultry slaughtered and eggs
laid in California on or after March 24, according to U.S.
Department of Agriculture data. Cuba has restricted imports of
frozen or fresh poultry raised or processed in Stanislaus County
on or after April 19.
And Russia's state veterinary and phytosanitary service
(VPSS) has banned poultry imports from California for 90 days
due to the appearance of the bird flu, VPSS spokesman Alexei
Alekseenko told Reuters on Wednesday.
The U.S. exported $5.53 billion worth of poultry meat and
products in 2013, up from $5.46 billion in 2012, according to
the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Veterinarians and investigators from USDA and the California
Department of Food and Agriculture are working together "to
humanely euthanize birds," CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said.
Together, he said, the agencies "are continuing to investigate
Other cases of low-pathogenic avian influenza virus have
been sporadically identified in the United States in recent
years, according to USDA officials, including two instances in
commercial meat turkey flocks in 2011 in Missouri and Minnesota.
The farm with the current outbreak, located near San
Francisco, was quarantined after the H5 virus strain was
detected, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
reported on its website. The farm, which has not been identified
by name, had about 95,000 Japanese quail and some 21,000 Peking
ducks, the OIE said.
The outbreak so far has affected two poultry buildings, with
a layer house holding about 56,000 adult quail and a brooder
house with about 39,000 quail.
The export bans, even if temporary, are expected to have
little impact on California's chicken and poultry industry,
which predominantly raises meat for the domestic market,
industry analysts said.
But the news has caused logistical problems for some poultry
producers outside of the Golden State which typically ship
containers of frozen or chilled poultry meat or eggs through the
ports of Oakland or Long Beach.
A Tyson Foods spokesman said in an email on Thursday
it does not have any poultry plants in California, so none of
its operations have been affected by the virus outbreak. But the
company has adjusted its shipping to start using west coast
ports outside of California, in order to maintain poultry
deliveries to its export customers, said company spokesman Gary
Toby Moore, spokesman for the Poultry & Egg Export Council,
said other poultry producers are also re-routing their cargo to
ports in other states to avoid California altogether.
"Exporters are concerned," Moore said. "Any transit
restrictions means you have to make changes and start to work
around your normal practices."
(Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Polina
Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Richard Chang)