Hormel’s Jennie-O confirms presence of bird flu in its supply chain

Dive Brief:

  • Jennie-O, the turkey brand owned by Hormel Foods, announced in a statement last weekend the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), or bird flu, has infected poultry in its supply chain. The flock carrying the disease are at a farm in Minnesota.
  • The turkey brand said the farms supplying animals for its products have not had any confirmed cases of the disease until now. It said it has been preparing for the disease and took “extensive precautions” to keep its turkeys safe. Jennie-O is working with the USDA, trade groups and other organizations to monitor the situation, according to Hormel.
  • As bird flu ravages the poultry industry for the first time since 2015, producers may raise prices as the animals become more difficult to source. This comes despite experts saying the disease is not a food safety concern for humans.

Dive Insight:

News of bird flu has frightened some consumers and is putting poultry brands on high alert.

According to U.S. Agriculture Department estimates, there have been 77 instances of the lethal bird flu among commercial and backyard flocks as part of this year’s outbreak.

A flock of roughly 240,000 chickens in Kentucky owned by Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. chicken processor by sales, was found to be infected with bird flu last month, Reuters reported. In a statement to Just Food at the time, Tyson said it had enacted enhanced biosecurity measures and testing of its birds, but that it does not expect the disease to impact its chicken production.

The last bird flu outbreak, which occurred in 2015 and impacted egg-bearing chickens more than broilers, cost the federal government more than $1 billion. The money went toward depopulation, cleaning and disinfection as well as indemnities for lost birds, according to the USDA.

The outbreak led to the deaths of more than 50 million chickens and turkeys. Poultry prices were affected for several years, with the worst volatility occurring in egg and turkey, according to a report from Gro Intelligence.

Birds intended for commercial sale that are infected with the disease are euthanized and infected farms are quarantined to prevent further spread, according to the National Turkey Federation. For this reason, experts say the disease poses a low health risk to the public.

The biggest consumer impact of the disease spreading would likely come through the prices shoppers see on shelves at the grocery store. Poultry prices have already jumped 12.5% during the last year, according to the government’s consumer-price index.

The outbreak is the latest headache to wreak havoc on the meat and poultry industry in the last two years. Supply chain issues, higher feed costs and labor shortages have been battering the sector, issues that were not as prevalent during the last outbreak.

Bird flu does not appear to be having a major impact on prices so far, and while poultry producers are taking bird flu seriously, they don’t appear overly concerned that their chicken and poultry output will be materially impacted. With Tyson, Perdue Farms, Sanderson Farms and Pilgrim’s Pride getting their birds supplied from multiple locations across several states, they appear to be somewhat insulated unless the outbreak becomes more widespread.