Respiratory Virus Causes Texas Cull

TEXAS, US - The discovery on infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) on farms in Texas has resulted in a cull of 1.4 million birds on 56 farms.
calendar icon 23 March 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

More than 1.4 million chickens have been killed in Robertson County this week after officials detected a rare respiratory infection in some of the birds, according to The Eagle.

Lampkin Butts, chief operating officer of Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, said on 19 March that chickens with infectious laryngotracheitis, or ILT, had been found in farms near Texas 6 and Texas 14 more than a week ago.

The virus is not a danger to people, even if they eat meat infected with the disease, according to Texas Animal Health Commission officials who are overseeing the slaughter of the birds in Robertson County.

"To stop the movement of disease, affected and exposed birds are being slaughtered," Texas Animal Health Commission Executive Director Bob Hillman said in a statement on 19 March.

Mr Butts and Robertson County Judge, Jan Roe, said the financial impact on the chicken farmers and people with backyard flocks whose birds are wiped out could be significant.

Mr Butts said that about one million of those killed would be processed for food and that meat from another 400,000 euthanised birds would not be distributed.

"I would like to assure all of our customers in Texas that these birds will be processed under USDA inspection, bird by bird. They are absolutely wholesome, and, as the animal health commission has said, this virus does not affect the wholesomeness of the chicken for our consumers at all," he said.

ILT, a respiratory disease related to the herpes virus, spreads easily and can cause death in poultry, according to Sanjay Reddy, an associate professor who studies disease and virology with Texas A&M University's Department of Poultry Science.

"This disease is a big deal for us in Texas since we have kept this disease out of our state for a long time," he said. He said outbreaks of ILT are fairly common in other states.

It remains unclear how the birds became infected.

Mr Butts said company veterinarians detected the virus on 9 March on farms that raise the birds exclusively for Sanderson Farms.

Officials identified a two-mile 'red zone' around the infected area that includes at least one commercial farm and several backyard flocks and notified the Texas Animal Health Commission, as required by law.

Mr Butts said that all the birds from 56 broiler houses would be culled by 21 March and that officials had isolated the area to keep the virus from spreading.

Sanderson Farms processes 2.4 million chickens per week at its Waco and Bryan plants. Mr Butts said the company and its growers would take a significant hit from the outbreak.

"This has been expensive for us," he told The Eagle. "Unfortunately, it's a risk in farming, and we believe, at the end of the day, [the farmers] will be fine."

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