Poultry Farm to Subdivide Facilities to Avoid Large-scale Culls amid Avian Flu Outbreak

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A Tohoku Farm egg packaging center is seen in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture in late February.

An egg farm in Aomori Prefecture will divide its coops into groups to mitigate the spread of avian influenza amid an outbreak of the highly pathogenic disease in Japan.

Normally, if chickens at a poultry farm are infected with avian flu, all the birds on the farm are culled. By managing groups of coops separately, the farm hopes to reduce the number of birds subject to culls if a case of avian flu is detected at the facility.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry plans to promote the introduction of such a system at large-scale poultry farms nationwide.

Avian flu outbreaks have occurred at 55 egg farms nationwide since last October. As of Friday, cull orders have impacted 13.79 million hens, 10% of all egg-laying poultry — a record high.

Five farms each lost more than 1 million chickens, accounting for 5.97 million birds.

Meanwhile, an egg shortage has been spreading, sending prices soaring.

Under the envisaged system, large-scale farms with over 1 million birds will be divided into groups, each managed separately using different personnel, vehicles, equipment, and egg-grading and packaging facilities to mitigate the spread of avian flu,.

By restricting the movements of personnel and vehicles between the groups, the system should mitigate the spread of the virus. In the event of an outbreak, the cull can be limited to birds from the same group.

The system will be implemented at Tohoku Farm in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, which supplies eggs to the northern Tohoku region and the Tokyo metropolitan area.

In December, 1.39 million birds at its main farm in Misawa were culled because of avian flu, the highest number for a single farm.

The farm plans to introduce the system this year when production resumes. No other poultry farms in Japan are thought to operate such a system.

Culls linked to avian influenza are conducted in accordance with the Prevention of Infectious Diseases in Livestock Law.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry called for the consideration of divided management at a meeting earlier this year attended by prefectural government officials in charge of livestock production.

“This is an effective means of reducing culls and ensuring a stable supply of eggs,” a senior ministry official said.

The national government will promote the system and handle queries from local governments and poultry farms interested in adopting it.

An association of governors in the Hokkaido and Tohoku regions, chaired by Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura, asked the government in January to provide financial support to poultry farmers for renovations, regarding the divided management system.

An expert panel advising the ministry on avian flu measures has stated that the request is worth consideration.

However, many issues must be addressed before the system can be adopted.

“The layout of facilities such as chicken coops and the movements of workers and vehicles differ from farm to farm, so the cost of adopting such a system will also differ,” said an executive of an egg farm operator hit by avian flu. There’s even a possibility we’ll have to expand the site, which, from a cost perspective, is a reason for the hesitance.”

In recent years, bird flu outbreaks have occurred at overseas farms throughout the year, not just in winter.

It is the third consecutive year bird flu outbreaks have been confirmed in Japan.

With more than 10% of egg-laying hens culled, the average wholesale price of eggs in the Tokyo area was ¥327 per kilogram in February, the highest price since such statistics were first recorded in 1993, according to JA Z-Tamago Co.