The stubborn outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the United States is the biggest and perhaps most shocking development of 2022, and could be the biggest story of 2023.

Crashing the holiday party

Known by the acronym HPAI, the disease is economically damaging the egg and poultry industries. Once detected in a commercial flock, the birds are culled to stamp out the disease. This effects the supply chain and market.

The last significant outbreak, in 2014 and 2015, shocked the U.S. egg and turkey industries but eventually ended. The current outbreak in the U.S. began in January 2022 and spread to every wild bird flyway in North America. HPAI outbreaks continued as late as October 2022 when, unfortunately, a new wild bird migration season began.

Avian influenza is breaking into the public consciousness, too. With wallets drained by epic inflation, economic observers and maybe even consumers will blame the disease as a reason for record high retail turkey prices this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

H5N1

Everyone surrounding the industry is likely wondering when the disease will finally go away. Elevated biosecurity is the expectation now. However, if wild bird populations, and other vectors, continually spread the disease, hope of a definite conclusion dims.

Dr. Thomas Elam, president of FarmEcon LLC, issued a major caution during a WATT Poultry Chat appearance in late September 2022. The strain of the disease currently spreading, H5N1, is the one that’s troubled Asia and Europe for years. Elam said it’s a more persistent and contagious strain of the disease that’s more likely to affect birds during the colder season.

Elam said H5N1 could bring long term worrying impacts to the entire poultry industry. In the long-suffering turkey sector, he said it could drive up overall costs and even result in further consolidation of the industry.