(Repeats with no changes)
By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO, March 6 Top U.S. chicken and egg
companies ramped up procedures to protect birds from avian flu
on Monday, a day after the federal government confirmed the
nation's first case of the virus at a commercial operation in
more than a year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Sunday that a
farm in southern Tennessee that is a supplier to Tyson Foods Inc
had been infected with the virus. All 73,500 birds there
were killed by the disease, known as avian influenza (AI), or
have since been suffocated with foam to prevent its spread.
The outbreak raised concerns among chicken companies because
the infected farm is located near biggest-producing states for
chicken meat, including Georgia and Alabama.
The spread of bird flu would represent a financial blow for
operators because it would kill birds or require flocks to be
culled, and it would trigger more import bans from other
countries. Health officials said the risk of avian influenza
spreading to people or making food unsafe was extremely remote.
The worst-ever U.S. outbreak of avian flu in 2014 and 2015
killed about 50 million birds, most of which were egg-laying
hens in Iowa, but left the southeastern United States largely
Already, U.S. trading partners, including South Korea and
Japan, have restricted shipments of U.S. poultry because of the
infection in Tennessee.
Pilgrim's Pride Corp, the world's second-largest
chicken producer, said it "immediately activated AI response
plans and heightened on-farm biosecurity programs at all
Pilgrim's facilities" in response to the case.
Sanderson Farms Inc, the third-largest U.S. poultry
producer, cracked down on the movement of people and vehicles
into its facilities, said Mike Cockrell, chief financial
"Our whole industry from coast to coast has been put on a
heightened biosecurity alert," said James Sumner, president of
the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.
Tyson shares on Monday closed down 2.5 percent, while
Sanderson Farms shares lost 2 percent and Pilgrim's Pride shares
dropped 1.2 percent.
'BROILER BELT' CONCERNS
The infected farm housed roosters and hens that produced
fertilized eggs, which hatch into the "broiler" chickens raised
for meat. Often, such facilities have even higher security
measures than farms raising birds for slaughter because the
breeding animals are more valuable.
"The thing that's worrisome is that it's in the broiler
belt," said John Glisson, vice president of research for the
U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. "There are so many birds in
this part of the world."
Just in Alabama, across the border from the infected farm,
producers raised more than 1 billion broiler chickens in 2015.
Portions of Alabama are within a zone surrounding the
infected farm in which chickens are being tested for avian flu.
Tyson collected samples from an Alabama farm in the zone, and
they tested negative for the virus, according to the Alabama
Department of Agriculture and Industries.
Tyson asked government officials to expand the zone around
the farm to 10 miles from 6.2 miles "to ensure all their
commercial operations in the region were disease free," said
Donna Karlsons, U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman. The
company manages all the commercial facilities in the region, she
Tyson had no immediate comment. On Sunday, the company said
it was working with state and federal officials to contain the
Of eight chicken houses on the farm in Tennessee, one became
infected, said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken
Council, an industry group. That indicates "the farmer obviously
was practicing pretty good biosecurity," he said.
The farmer will bury the remains of the dead chickens on his
property, said Glisson.
Wild birds, such as ducks, can carry avian flu without
showing symptoms of it and spread it to commercial farms through
feces or feathers.
In recent months, different strains of the virus have been
confirmed in birds across the northern hemisphere, leading
authorities worldwide to cull millions of animals. Several
people have died in an outbreak of avian flu in China.
The strain that struck the Tennessee had a North American
wild bird lineage, according to the USDA.
The USDA said it did not know how the farm in Tennessee
became infected or the strain involved.
"We have been reading of the spread of bird flu in Asia and
Europe, and now to be confirmed here in the U.S. is of serious
concern," said Ken Klippen, president of the National
Association of Egg Farmers.
Rose Acre Farms, the second-largest U.S. egg producer,
raised its risk level to "tightest you can get" after the
Tennessee case was detected, Chief Executive Marcus Rust said.
Trucks must wait 72 hours to enter the company's property if
they come from an area with avian flu, up from 24 hours, he
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)