Three countries halt poultry imports from Arkansas over bird flu


LITTLE ROCK — Three countries have stopped importing poultry from Arkansas because of an outbreak of avian flu in one commercial chicken house in Scott County, a possible blow to the state’s economy, a state agriculture official told lawmakers Tuesday.

Livestock and Poultry Commission Director Preston Scroggin said the outbreak of avian flu, discovered June 16 on a farm in the Boles Community, was contained to one chicken house and testing of all poultry within a 6.2 mile radius has been negative.

Scroggin said he hoped the three countries — China, Japan and Russia — will resume importing Arkansas poultry soon after a quarantine of all poultry within the affected area has been lifted, within about 90 days.

The last avian flu outbreak in Arkansas occurred in 2008, and China resumed accepting Arkansas poultry shipments just last year, he said.

“It’s a serious issue for the state’s economy … poultry is a big business,” Scroggin told members of the House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committees, adding that the loss of imports to China, Japan and Russia “could run into the hundreds of millions.”

The effects of an extended embargo on the state’s $16 billion agriculture industry would go beyond the loss of direct poultry exports, the Livestock and Poultry chief said. Poultry production amounts to about 47 percent of the state’s agriculture revenue, he said, adding that Springdale-based Tyson Foods, the nation’s top meat processor, alone uses about 62 percent of the corn grown in Arkansas.

Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday the decision by China and the other countries to stop poultry shipments from Arkansas was unfortunate considering the success of his 2012 trade mission to China.

“One of the things I was doing in China was getting our poultry market reopened, which took a while but we got done, and then you get an incident like this,” Beebe said. “Hopefully they’ll be able to see the data and hopefully all the data will come in fairly quickly to show that (state officials) have done a really good job of containing it. If they can do that, then hopefully they’ll reverse their position.”

The bird flu, has caused serious outbreaks in domestic poultry in parts of Asia and the Middle East. The virus comes in two strains — N5N1, a potent form, and H7N7, a mild form — and does not usually infect humans, though 600 human cases of H5N1 have been reported from 15 countries since 2003, according to flu.gov.

Last week, the governor’s office and the state Health Department said the positive tests at the Scott County chicken house pose no public-health threat. Health officials said avian flu cannot be transmitted to people through the consumption of properly prepared poultry.

Scroggins said Tuesday his agency has been monitoring the site around the clock “and we feel like we’ve got it isolated to this one house.”

The initial round of testing was done on all commercial flocks and all backyard flocks, and the state is following established protocols for how to respond to the outbreak, he said.

All poultry within the quarantined area will be tested periodically for 90 days and if all tests continue to be negative the quarantine will be lifted, Scroggins said after the meeting.

Scroggins said 18 of 30 chickens tested in the chicken house, on a farm that supplies poultry to Tyson Foods in Springdale, tested positive for the virus.

Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said Tuesday the strain of the avian flu found in Scott County was the mild H7N7 and “we believe there was never any threat to human health.”

He said the flu was discovered during testing conducted by Tyson and that the flock was euthanized.

“As an additional preventative measure, Tyson heightened its biosecurity measures and surveillance of avian influenza,” Sparkman said, including testing breeder farms that serve the company, as well as any contract broiler farms within a 6.2 mile radius of the affected farm.

Sparkman said Tyson already checks all flocks for avian influenza before they leave the farm.

Marvin Childress, director of the Arkansas Poultry Federation, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Tuesday.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this report did not make clear the differences between the N5N1 and H7N7 strains of avian flu.

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Reporter John Lyon contributed to this report.