Egg Farms Make Progress Toward Recovery And Repopulation After Avian Influenza

Recovery is underway for the U.S. egg farming community after the devastating outbreak of avian influenza (AI) this spring. While repopulation of flocks on affected Midwestern egg farms continues, egg farmers across the nation are also increasing biosecurity measures and preparing for the possible return of the virus during the fall migratory season.

“Egg farmers affected by AI this spring have been working diligently and are making good strides toward resuming egg production,” said Chad Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers (UEP). While some of the farms affected earliest in the outbreak time period are beginning to bring young hens back into their barns, Gregory said it will be at least 12 to 18 months before egg production returns to full, pre-AI levels. In addition, farms repopulating must meet stringent cleaning and disinfection regulations defined by USDA-APHIS, before they can repopulate.

It may take up to 80 weeks to fully repopulate some farms because the age of hens is deliberately staggered to collectively produce the right amount of eggs to meet customer needs on a consistent, ongoing basis. To further illustrate timelines and bird life stages, UEP has developed an egg farm repopulation graphic to demonstrate the complexities of repopulation to egg customers, food processors, retailers and consumers.

Adding to the challenge is a short supply of pullets, which are young hens that move into layer barns at about 16 to 18 weeks of age when they begin consistently producing eggs. This short supply has been created by the overwhelming need for more pullets at one time as egg farmers start to fill layer barns. Additionally, AI was detected on some breeder and pullet farms, which reduced the number of birds available at early stages of the repopulation process. One breeder hen provides the equivalent of 120 chicks, which makes the loss of breeder flocks even more impactful on the egg supply.


Biosecurity Taken to New Levels
Although biosecurity and disease prevention have been a priority on egg farms for decades, the uncontrollable and rapid spread of AI this spring stymied even the best efforts of farmers and animal health experts. In response, U.S. egg farms have enhanced biosecurity measures intended to further protect their flocks, with a focus on these key areas:

• Increasing protocols for controlled movement of workers, birds, vehicles and equipment,
• Ensuring feed and water are not at risk of virus contamination and
• Limiting contact with domesticated and wild birds.

Egg farms are tightening vehicle restrictions, increasing disinfection procedures and expanding worker training. UEP has reviewed and summarized chapters of biosecurity recommendations from USDA-APHIS for its members, and the American Egg Board distributed biosecurity enhancement recommendations to all commercial egg farmers.

Methods proposed to increase biosecurity range from minor procedural shifts to large investments in equipment and facilities. All egg farmers have been encouraged to work with veterinarians and animal health experts to evaluate current biosecurity programs, consider new recommendations from industry experts, and adjust based on new learnings from AI.

“We pledge our best efforts to overcome this setback and re-build a healthy and viable egg industry,” Gregory said. “It is vital that we continue to work diligently and collaboratively to protect the health and well-being of our flocks, egg farms and rural communities.”

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About United Egg Producers
United Egg Producers (UEP) is a cooperative of U.S. egg farmers working collaboratively to address legislative, regulatory and advocacy issues impacting the industry through active farmer-member leadership, a unified voice and partnership across the agriculture community. UEP’s farmer-members work to provide for the health and well-being of their birds; to produce safe, nutritious, high-quality eggs; and to manage their farms responsibly with best on-farm management practices. Leadership of and participation in the UEP Certified program by the vast majority of egg producers further demonstrates a broad commitment to the care of egg-laying hens. UEP also manages the national Egg Safety Center, a leading resource for consumer and industry information on the safe production of eggs and prevention of disease. Formed in 1968, UEP members represent more than 90 percent of current US egg production.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Hinda Mitchell, on behalf of UEP, 614.537.8926, hindam@cmabuildstrust.co

Editors’ note: A high-resolution of the repopulation graphic is available on request. A low-resolution version is attached.

Egg Farmers Grateful for Support During Avian Influenza Crisis

As a farmer cooperative, United Egg Producers (UEP) is the voice of egg farmers who independently produce more than 90 percent of all eggs in the U.S. Today, we use that voice to say thank you to the thousands of people who have supported egg farmers during the worst crisis in our history.

The past few months have been devastating for the U.S. egg community, especially in Midwestern states. We have been consumed in a tireless battle against highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI). This outbreak was unprecedented in its rapid spread and in the difficulty of identifying how it spread. Egg farmers have been fighting a dangerous enemy – one they could not see.

Since mid-April, about 12 percent of the U.S. commercial layer flock has been lost, including 36 million hens and six million pullets in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin; the unprecedented spread of this virus was as indiscriminate as it was fast.

Those farms affected by AI have accomplished a multitude of seemingly impossible tasks – managing hen mortality, euthanizing entire flocks, identifying and securing responsible disposal options, and beginning the arduous process of cleaning and disinfecting barns. Throughout this devastating time, farmers showed utmost concern for care and safety of their hens, employees, communities, and countless contractors and volunteers. We are confident the flocks will repopulate, and these family businesses will rebuild.

To list all who have helped would be overwhelming. The outpouring of support ranges from emergency funding by Congress and USDA to rural communities which organized food for farm workers. We certainly must recognize USDA-APHIS, federal and state officials for their leadership, swift response and hard work. The government stepped up when needed for support, guidance and on-the-ground resources. For that, we are extremely grateful.

Early in the AI crisis, UEP members and staff prioritized three areas to research and develop direction, with our goal to support egg farmers, limit further spread of AI and curb future outbreaks.

  • Biosecurity vigilance
    Egg farmers have implemented biosecurity and disease prevention measures for many years, enhanced after the 1980s AI outbreaks in Pennsylvania and FDA’s Egg Safety Rule, issued in 2009. This AI outbreak did not catch producers unprepared, but the uncontrollable spread of this AI strain stymied even the best efforts of both farmers and APHIS.

    In biosecurity, we can do more, and we are doing more. Egg farms are tightening vehicle restrictions, increasing disinfection procedures, and expanding worker training. UEP distilled chapters of biosecurity recommendations from USDA APHIS, and the American Egg Board distributed producer-friendly documents to every commercial egg farmer. Ideas to increase biosecurity range from minor procedural shifts to large investments in equipment and facilities. Every egg farmer is urged to consider these recommendations to heighten disease prevention and amplify a culture of increased biosecurity.

  • Indemnity to affected farms
    Federal indemnities to cover the value of lost birds and egg production, as well as cleaning and disinfection costs, are essential to restoring our industry. These indemnities were established to help farmers as a type of “insurance” during an unforeseen crisis. They can make the difference between farms’ failure and survival.

    Therefore, UEP has launched an aggressive campaign seeking additional indemnity funds from USDA. This campaign is currently ongoing and we are hopeful USDA will soon recognize that these additional funds are needed in order for these egg farms to survive.

  • Potential of vaccination to reduce spread
    Vaccination was considered as one possibility to reduce the AI spread. Use of vaccines in poultry is a complex issue. Egg farmers support ongoing research by USDA and others who are working to develop vaccines for possible future protection. Although vaccination is not currently an option, UEP will continue to collaborate with others in the poultry community and animal health experts as vaccination possibilities evolve.

In preparation for the future, UEP is also cooperating with poultry scientists, avian disease prevention experts and epidemiologists to determine what caused this disease to spread so widely and so rapidly. More importantly, we want to determine how we can prevent a situation like this from recurring.

While we’re still assessing the full consequences of AI, there are a few things we know for certain.

  • There have been job losses. Affected farms have worked to preserve jobs, but a difficult reality is that without the production of eggs, routine jobs on those farms are limited. Some farms have been able to move employees to other positions, but others have been forced to conduct layoffs.
  • Impacts in farm communities go far beyond direct farm employment. Transportation, feed production and other businesses also are significantly impacted. In many rural communities, egg farms are among the leading employers, taxpayers and philanthropists.
  • There have been supply and price disruptions. While we expect longer-term stability, AI created some short-term supply challenges. Hardest hit was the egg products market, which provides eggs for foodservice, food manufacturing and other ingredient-based processes. We estimate 30 percent of the total hens producing eggs for further processing were lost due to AI.
  • Even with price increases, eggs remain among the most affordable sources of protein. The American public has continued to purchase eggs and recognizes that eggs remain safe to eat. This strain cannot be transmitted through properly handled and cooked eggs or meat.

While we feel some relief in that there have been no new detections since early June, our vigilance cannot and will not stop.

Our farms and their employees, rural communities and egg customers have suffered an unprecedented blow this year; this cannot happen again. We pledge our best efforts to overcome this virus and re-build a healthy and viable egg industry. It is vital that we work diligently and collaboratively to prevent more harm to the egg and poultry community.

I am proud to work for an organization that, even amidst crisis, takes a proactive, positive and constructive approach. UEP is truly led by egg farmers – for egg farmers. Over the past few months, our members have rallied together, prayed together, cried together and fought this disease together. At a time when we are so weakened, the egg community still has never been stronger.

Again, thank you. The outpouring of support has been invaluable during this very difficult time.

– Chad Gregory, President & CEO, United Egg Producers
– As printed in Feedstuffs, July 27, 2015

Questions about Avian Influenza on Egg Farms?

This spring, the U.S. egg community has experienced the worst crisis in its history – the devastating and rapid spread of Avian Influenza (AI). Egg farmers understand and share the public’s questions and concern about this disease.

What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza (AI), a virus commonly known as the “bird flu,” is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus.

Is there AI on egg farms?
Yes, there have been positive findings of AI on commercial egg farms. Egg farmers are working diligently to care for their flocks and prevent the disease from entering their farms.

Are the current findings of AI a risk to public health?
The identified strains found on commercial egg and turkey farms have not affected any humans and are not considered a risk to public health.

Can I catch AI from the eggs or meat I eat?
No. Avian influenza can’t be transmitted through safely handled and properly cooked eggs, chicken or turkey. As a reminder, however, all eggs, chicken and turkey should be cooked thoroughly and at the recommended temperatures to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses. To learn more about cooking and handling eggs, visit USDA’s food safety question and answer page or the Egg Safety Center.

What is United Egg Producers (UEP) doing about this situation?
America’s egg farmers continue to be vigilant in keeping their flocks free from disease and assuring the safety of eggs and egg products provided for customers. There is close collaboration between UEP and others in the egg, chicken and turkey farming communities to share information and prevent AI from further spread. In addition, state and federal regulatory authorities are working hand in hand to limit occurrence of this disease and to continue surveillance programs.

What preventive measures are in place to protect humans from this disease and to prevent the disease from spreading to other flocks?
Egg farmers employ a number of rigorous biosecurity guidelines, including, but not limited to:

  • Restricting on-farm access to essential employees only;
  • Following on-farm disinfecting procedures, such as the use of foot baths;
  • Housing hens indoors to prevent access to wild birds and waterfowl;
  • Limiting movement between farm operations;
  • Requiring protective gear be used at all times for anyone who enters egg farms; and
  • Working closely with animal health experts and veterinarians to monitor flocks.

Additional Resources

For more information about eggs and the egg industry please follow the links below.