The avian influenza epidemic that wiped out millions of chickens and turkeys in the United States did its greatest damage in prompting trade bans, says a new report from the government.
The United States Department of Agricutture’s Economic Research Service says the 2014-2015 outbreak's impact on the U.S. poultry farming industry was less damaging than the loss of exports.
The losses to flocks wiped out by the virus – in some cases more than five million laying hens per farm - was offset by higher prices for the farms that were able to continue marketing eggs and turkeys at higher prices.
But the export bans hit the chicken industry hard, backing up supplies and lowering prices.
The authors of the report say this highlights the importance of implementing policies that respond to the total cost of an outbreak, not just the losses to farms whose flocks are wiped out or who are caught in a quarantine zone.
The effects of the trade disruptions also lasted longer than the direct effects of bird culls, says the report.
“Prices for many poultry products remained at multiyear lows in 2016, partly due to lingering export weakness related to the outbreak and other factors,” it says.
The government learned from the epidemic in 2014-15 and “the few HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) events that occurred in the United States in 2016 and 2017 were quickly extinguished with relatively few birds lost,” the report says.