Argentina is now out of international poultry markets following the detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in commercial poultry flocks.

The country exports 185,000 metric tons of poultry meat annually and, while this may small compared to neighboring Brazil’s exports, Argentina is, nevertheless, thought to be the eighth largest exporter of poultry meat in the world, meaning that the impact will not simply be felt locally.

The virus was first reported in the country in mid-February. However, as has been the case with many of its neighbors, HPAI was found in wild birds, not in commercially reared chickens. Now, however, the situation has changed.

The first case in commercially reared birds occurred in in the province of Rio Negro in northern Patagonia, an area with limited poultry production. Since then, however, the virus has moved north, emerging on a commercial farm and in a backyard flock in Buenos Aires, and on two backyard flocks in the province of Cordoba.

Argentinian production is primarily orientated to the home market, nevertheless the industry has been taking advantage of new opportunities in globally. Its two main export destinations have been China and Chile, however, the war in Ukraine has created supply gaps in the global market, and Argentina recently started shipping to Saudi Arabia. Higher prices have also made exports more attractive and overseas sales had been projected to grow by 4% this year.

While keeping disease out of commercial animal production is currently forefront on numerous minds in Latin America at the moment, there is only so much that can be done. Should disease enter production, as we all know, the impact can be huge.

Brazil’s BSE

Brazil may, so far, escaped the emergence of avian influenza but its beef industry has not been so lucky where disease and lost markets are concerned.

I had hoped that I would never have to write about BSE again, given that far too many column inches were given over to it when I worked in animal health, but the disease has raised its ugly head again, and this time in Brazil, with the country’s Ministry of Agriculture announcing in February that a case of the disease had been detected in the state of Pará.

Upon initial detection, it was not know whether the infected animal had contracted classic BSE, i.e. through ingesting prion contaminated feed, or atypical BSE,  believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations. Laboratory diagnosis subsequently revealed that the animal had atypical BSE.

Numerous beef importers, however, did not wait to find out. China, Brazil’s main export destination for beef suspended its purchases from across the country, and not for the first time. Thailand, Iran and Jordan followed suit.

There are always winners and losers when some suppliers have to exit markets, whether temporarily or long-term. While the ban on Brazilian beef exports is likely to be simply a short-term suspension, Brazilian cattle prices are already reported to be weakening. Should AI enter the country’s commercial flocks it will be a different story.

Argentina’s exclusion from international markets could be a gift for its competitors, and its industry may not overly suffer. This, however, would be very different story should the AI enter Brazilian flocks, with prices falling on the country’s home market and difficulties in global supplies seeing prices rise internationally.  

Chicken may be about to become a whole lot more expensive, or cheaper, depending on where you live.