Risk Diversification Urgently Needed at Poultry Farms

Avian influenza is spreading dramatically, and egg prices are beginning to be affected. Poultry farmers and the central and local governments should do their utmost to contain the situation.

Since October of last year, bird flu outbreaks have occurred at about 70 poultry farms in 25 prefectures, and about 12 million chickens have been culled so far. This exceeds the then record 9.87 million birds killed in fiscal 2020.

Infections have been widely confirmed in various parts of the country, and this situation is likely to continue until around May.

The avian flu virus is brought in by birds that migrate in winter. Outbreaks previously occurred in Japan about every few years, but this is the first time there has been an outbreak in three consecutive seasons, and there are concerns this will become a regular occurrence. The disease is also raging in Europe, the United States and South Korea.

Infections in wild birds have been reported around Japan, and there is a high risk that the virus will continue to enter poultry farms. The only way to prevent its entry is to make sure to close the gaps and holes where birds and rats — agents of the virus — pass through, and to thoroughly disinfect the areas where people and vehicles enter and exit.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, some poultry farms where infections were found this season had holes in their walls and wire mesh, and there was inadequate disinfection of the clothes and boots of their employees and others. Each poultry farm should check to see if there are any deficiencies in their countermeasures.

Measures to minimize the damage from infection should also be considered in advance.

One of the reasons for the greater cull is the increasing scale of the operations of poultry farms. A number of infections have been reported in poultry farms that raise hundreds of thousands to over a million chickens. In Aomori Prefecture, 1.39 million chickens were destroyed at one farm, the most ever for a single poultry farm.

The total number of egg-laying hens kept in Japan has remained almost the same over the past 30 years, but the number of hens per farm has increased 400%.

There is no doubt that the increasing scale of poultry farms has improved management efficiency, leading to a stable supply of eggs and chicken meat. However, once an outbreak occurs, all the chickens kept on the same premises are subject to culling, which is a major blow to a farm’s business.

If facilities for each poultry farm are divided into multiple locations and thorough hygiene management is implemented when employees move between the facilities, it should be possible to avoid killing all the chickens even if an outbreak occurs at one location. Risk diversification should be considered.

The retail price of eggs, which used to fluctuate so little that it was called an “honor student among prices,” is now more than 10% higher than in a normal year. To protect the stable supply of eggs to consumers, the government should support the decentralization of poultry farm facilities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 29, 2023)