livestock

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Veterinarian and researcher Scott Dee doesn't much look the part of a detective, in his jeans and company polo shirt.

But when a virus never before seen in North America swept through the network of hog farms where he works, Pipestone Veterinary Services, in January 2014, he had his first clue.

"These farms had the same pattern of infection," Dee said.

Photo by Amy Mayer

A fast-spreading virus never before seen in the United States hit the pork industry more than two years ago, racking up roughly $1 billion in losses and spiking prices for consumers.

While researchers are still trying to track the culprit, it appears to be an intrepid world traveler that may have been delivered directly to farmers' barn doors, creating an intriguing international back story traced to China.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Cage-free eggs could be coming to a breakfast near you.

Several large food companies and restaurants, from Starbucks to McDonald's to Kellogg's, announced timelines this year for phasing out eggs laid in conventional cages, a victory for animal welfare advocates who have pushed for changes for years.

But there is more to housing hens than square inches and some egg farmers argue the cage-free barns are less humane than traditional hen housing.

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The cost of a dozen eggs has dropped about a dollar since August, when the price was roughly double from the previous year as a result of the worst outbreak of avian influenza in the nation’s history. But bird flu is only part of the reason egg prices were so high this summer.

Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

Americans eat more chicken than any other meat, an average of 89 pounds per year. That enormous demand for what's considered a relatively inexpensive protein source is feeding the $50 billion poultry industry. 

In recent years, consumer groups have pushed the industry to stop feeding antibiotics and move laying hens to cage-free pens. But while many people are concerned with the welfare of meat animals, there appears to be little consumer concern for how workers in the meat industry are treated.

Flickr / slappytheseal

For the first time since 1904 poultry will not be shown at the Iowa State Fair, so bird competitors have altered the century-old traditions in preparation for  festivities that start Thursday.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced back in May that it's too risky to have so many birds in such close proximity in light of avian flu ravaging poultry facilities across Iowa and the nation earlier this year.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The potential for further consolidation in the nation’s pork industry could have financial implications for both farmers and consumers. That’s why Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says the Justice Department needs to scrutinize the proposed JBS purchase of Cargill’s pork unit. Currently the two companies rank third and fourth among the nation’s largest pork producers.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

USDA officials say they are planning for a worst-case scenario as there is a possibility of avian influenza returning this fall, when birds migrate south for the winter. 

Dr. Jack Shere with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says it’s worrying that avian flu seems to be slowly moving east. This mean the virus could turn up in states that haven’t yet been affected.

Flickr / Ben Freeman

Many veterans have a hard time finding employment when they return to civilian life, though some have landed jobs in the wake of bird flu. 

Veteran Enterprises is a veteran-owned business that does government contracting. Owner-operator Garth Carlson says he’s currently involved with the cleaning and disinfecting of six bird flu affected facilities in Iowa and Minnesota.

Carlson served two tours in Kosovo and two tours in Iraq with the army, but today he disinfects livestock facilities. 

USDA/Bob Nichols

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing Tuesday on avian influenza’s impact on the U.S. poultry industry. The USDA has come under scrutiny for its handling of the outbreak. 

One topic of discussion are the indemnities provided to affected producers who must euthanize their entire flock when the virus is detected. The USDA is considering a new indemnity formula in light of criticism that the current calculation short changes producers. 

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Bill Northey attended an avian influenza support prayer supper in Buena Vista County Wednesday night. The picnic of pulled pork sandwiches and salads was in support of affected poultry producers.

Northey told the group of roughly 175 people that communities need to pull together during difficult times.

“It’s important to do what you’re doing tonight. And that’s put your arms around the folks that went through this, let them know how much you care,” Northey says. “We’ll get through this.”

Flickr / Jeff Kubina

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case next term involving a $5.8 million class-action lawsuit arising from a pork processing plant in northwest Iowa. Tyson Foods Inc. say that employees at its Storm Lake facility don't have enough in common to join in a single class-action lawsuit.

IPR file photo by Kathleen Masterson

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon allow pasteurized egg imports from the Netherlands because of dwindling supplies and higher prices caused by the huge bird flu outbreak in the Midwest.

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The price of eggs used by food manufacturers has more than tripled in recent months. That’s largely thanks to the outbreak of bird flu spreading throughout Iowa, the nation’s number one egg production state.

Today, a dozen processing eggs costs roughly $2.26. In mid-April that same dozen cost 64 cents.

So far, Avian flu has affected more than 21 million egg-laying hens in Iowa alone. USDA poultry economist Alex Melton says this has food companies worried about supply.

Amy Mayer

The Iowa Department of Agriculture is canceling all live bird exhibitions at the Iowa State Fair, county fairs and other gatherings of birds in an effort to contain the spread of H5N2, a deadly bird flu that's led to the euthanization of more than 25 million poultry in the state. 

Scientists are still unsure exactly how the disease is spreading. The department’s order begins immediately and is effective through the end of 2015. 

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media

 

An avian flu outbreak is sweeping across the Midwest at a frightening pace, ravaging chicken and turkey farms and leaving officials stumped on the virus’s seemingly unstoppable spread.

Once Again, WTO Rejects Country of Origin Meat Labels

May 19, 2015
Photo by Grant Gerlock/Harveset Public Media file

Meat sold in the U.S. has to have a label telling in which country the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. But the World Trade Organization confirmed Monday that those country of origin labels (COOL) on meat sold in the U.S. violate international law.

Photo by Amy Mayer/IPR file

Composting millions of euthanized birds affected by avian flu is arduous and some poultry producers say the process takes too long. The corn stover usually used for cellulosic ethanol may help the process.

Stover is comprised of stalks, cobs and other waste left after harvest. A combination of heat and carbon-rich corn waste accelerates decomposition and kills the virus. The leftover material provides farmers with a compost to spread on fields. 

Flickr / J. N. Stuart

A team of wildlife biologists from the United States Department of Agriculture will be trapping small mammals and birds in Iowa and testing them for avian influenza over the next couple of weeks. USDA epidemiologists will also be interviewing workers at poultry operations about bio security practices. 

Iowa is the nation's leading poultry producer and so far more a third of the state's hens have been affected by the H5N2 virus. Nationwide the number of affected birds totals to 33 million. Avian influenza presents no food safety concerns.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Once a regular dining option, a mix of cultural and economic factors pushed lamb off the American dinner table. To put the meat back on the menu, ranchers and retailers are being encouraged to reach out to a more diverse set of consumers, specifically American Muslims and Latinos.

USDA/Flickr

Susanne Byerly can laugh now, four years later, talking about how she and her husband were trying to eat healthy food when they bought ground turkey for their spaghetti dinner.

Byerly, along with her husband, Jerry, and their two-year-old, Jack, were on vacation with extended family in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. While buying supplies at a local grocery store, they decided to swap ground beef for poultry because they were watching their weight.

Flickr / FAOALC

UPDATE: The United States Department of Agriculture has confirmed H5N2 in a Sioux County flock of 1.7 million hens. The USDA has not yet confirmed the presence of avian flu in the other four suspected flocks.

More than 6 million hens and juvenile chickens in northwest Iowa will be euthanized pending final confirmation of H5N2. The Iowa Department of Agriculture reports a total of five flocks may be affected by this highly pathogenic strain of avian flu. 

Flickr / MTSOfan

Roughly 3.8 million hens at a laying facility in northwest Iowa are being destroyed due to the presence of a highly pathogenic virus. H5N2, a strain of avian flu, was found Monday on at a commercial egg-laying facility in Osceola County doubling the number of affected birds nationwide. 

Originally the United States Department of Agriculture reported the Osceola flock's population to be 5.3 million birds. Rather that is the facility's capacity.

This is Iowa's second case of H5N2. Last week the virus struck a commercial turkey farm in Buena Vista County. 

H5N2 Hits Iowa Again

Apr 20, 2015
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As many as 5.3 million hens will be euthanized at a commercial laying facility in northwest Iowa as a result of the presence of H5N2. The United States Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence this highly pathogenic strain avian flu Monday.

This year there have already been more than 40 confirmed cases of the virus in commercial flocks across several Midwestern states. H5N2 supposedly is spread by migratory waterfowl, which are generally not harmed by the disease.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

 

A proposed change to livestock rules has put Nebraska hog farmers at the center of a debate that gets to the very core of what it means to be a farmer today.

In the top pork producing states like Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina, many farmers are under contract with giant meatpackers like Tyson or Smithfield Foods – the companies actually own the pigs and pay the farmers to raise them. That arrangement is illegal in Nebraska.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A highly contagious strain of bird flu has officially made its way to the Midwest.

The disease was confirmed Tuesday in two separate commercial turkey flocks in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Bacon and pork chops could become cheaper this year thanks, in part, to fewer pigs getting sick with the virus that devastated hog farms in 2014.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Since a highly contagious strain of bird flu was found in the U.S. in December, many countries have closed their doors to American poultry.

Sonja Salzburg for Harvest Public Media

Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it’s not the only food or drink made by a religious order.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

 

Northwestern Colorado has a rich heritage of raising sheep – either for their meat or for wool.

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