Cesar de Anda, president, Inova Alimentos Egg Company, presented what he described as “his version” of events in the H7N3 avian influenza outbreak in the Mexican state of Jalisco during the summer of 2012 at the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council winter meeting in Washington D.C. He said that the outbreak occurred in the most densely populated region for poultry in Mexico where there are 150 million layers in a radius of less than 150 miles. In fact, de Anda said, “This must be the most densely populated region of the world for layers.”
Most of the egg farms in Jalisco have at least 500,000 layers, with many having over a million hens, and de Anda said that the farms are very modern. The first official report of H7N3 avian influenza in Jalisco to the government was on June 18, 2012, according to de Anda. He said that some producers with flocks affected at the beginning of the outbreak waited up to three weeks before reporting to the government. Mexico doesn’t have a fund to compensate growers whose flocks are depopulated, and de Anda speculated that this lack of financial guarantee is the reason some of the producers waited to report.
One of the best things the poultry industry did in response to the outbreak was to reach out to media early on, de Anda said. The industry met with media to explain the situation and get cooperation on dissemination of important information without creating hysteria. He said that media cooperation was vital; the general population was kept informed, and they weren’t misinformed. The Mexican public was sensitive to zoonotic diseases after a swine flu outbreak occurred in Mexico in 2009.
Controlling the disease
The strain of influenza involved in this outbreak was highly pathogenic. Eradication of the outbreak could only be accomplished with depopulation or vaccination, and de Anda said that the decision was made to start depopulating farms right away.
The virus spread rapidly, and depopulation alone was not working. He explained that authorities were very close to losing control of the outbreak—they were within about a week and a half of losing control of the outbreak and losing 100 million birds. What saved the day for the industry was the vaccine, which was developed specifically for this outbreak.
The vaccine was available for use just four weeks after the announcement of the outbreak. This fast turnaround was only possible because they skipped some of the usual testing, according to de Anda. He said that the dire situation necessitated haste and that the vaccine turned out to be highly effective.
A total of 100 million hens were vaccinated. Final losses were 25 million layers by the end of September 2012, according to de Anda. Many of the losses were due to depopulation, not from the disease itself. He said that in his opinion, the source of the disease strain of the virus was a mutated version of a virus in wild birds.
Egg imports to meet demand
Per capita egg consumption in Mexico is 380; so, the rise in the price of eggs caused by the outbreak garnered a lot of attention, according to de Anda. Mexico allowed egg imports to offset some of the losses, and eggs were purchased from Colombia and the U.S.
The initial bids for egg delivered to Laredo, Texas were $0.67 per dozen, but the price quickly jumped to $1.20 per dozen, according to de Anda. He said that heat losses in the Midwestern U.S. occurred in the interim, but demand from Mexico had some impact as well.
Daily egg consumption in Mexico is 300,000 cases. The total egg purchases by Mexico from the U.S. were only equivalent to a one-day supply for Mexico, and purchases from Colombia amounted to much less than this.
“Mexico and the U.S. are completely tied together,” said de Anda. He explained that this is because the poultry supply needs for both countries are huge, and they are the only logical suppliers for each other. He said, “We need to work together to be a compliment to one another; we need to work together to share the market.” He added that Mexico and the U.S. are part of a region, and that this region needs to be able to compete with other regions of the world like the EU and Asia. In addition to running his businesses, de Anda is also the vice chair for the International Egg Commission and secretary for the NAFTA Egg and Poultry Partnership.
Economists estimate that the avian influenza outbreak in Mexico cost the poultry industry over $900 million, and de Anda said that the industry has received no funds from the government. Repopulation of the affected farms has started; de Anda said that by March or April of 2013 all of the farms will be repopulated.
Layer numbers going up
“We will be stronger. Now the local industry is trying to produce in a better way with less risk and a lower cost of production,” de Anda said. “We want to do it with you. We don’t want to compete against the U.S. industry. We will compete as different teams in the same championship, but I think we have a lot of links. We buy 50 percent of our grain from the U.S., we buy 90 percent of our soybeans from the U.S., but we are using Mexican labor, creativity, knowledge and water. We have to face common markets, and that is why I think we have to work closer with the U.S.”
Retail prices for eggs in Mexico rose from 25 pesos per kilo ($1.31 per dozen large eggs) before the outbreak to a high of approximately 60 pesos per kilo ($3.14 per dozen large) during the outbreak, according to de Anda. He said that the egg price was at 35 to 40 pesos per kilo ($1.83-2.09 per dozen large) in mid-December 2012. He expressed some concern that the price of eggs in Mexico will drop significantly when all of the farms in Jalisco are repopulated, because operations in other parts of Mexico have added birds in response to the rise in egg prices caused by the outbreak.