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Avian flu takes a toll on Utah turkey farms

More than half a million Utah turkeys have been euthanized due to avian flu. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke/AP
More than half a million Utah turkeys have been euthanized due to avian flu. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Inflation isn't the only reason Thanksgiving turkeys will have a higher price tag this year.

Approximately 700,000 turkeys across 18 Utah farms were euthanized following an outbreak of avian influenza.

Public News Service spoke with Bailee Woolstenhulme, public information officer for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. She said the first cases were detected earlier this year, then the outbreak exploded in August.

Woolstenhulme said there have been about 2.2 million turkeys across the country this fall that have needed to be killed due to the influenza.

She said Utah is one of the states with the highest number of turkey farmers, and this latest outbreak will have negative impacts on both farmers and consumers.

"This is a huge impact to these farmers for one, and the local economies where these farms are located,” said Woolstenhulme. “From the workers that work on those farms and also the income that comes from selling the turkeys each year. This will also have a fairly big impact on consumers as well."

According to the USDA, the retail price for a turkey is $1.99 per pound, up from $1.15 last year – a 73% increase.

The last avian flu outbreak was in 2015, and about 50 million birds were affected.

While in 2015 most cases were spread from farm to farm, this year Woolstenhulme said the main source of infection has been wild birds.

She said this particular strain of avian flu has been more contagious than those in the past and has a 90% mortality rate.

Woolstenhulme said those who own birds should be aware of their surroundings and limit risk of spreading the virus.

"Making sure that they stay within enclosures and away from where they can have contact with wild birds,” said Woolstenhulme. “Making sure they don't have shared water or feed sources with the wild birds. And then being extra cautious with the clothing you wear in and out of the coup... as well as washing your hands.”

While the avian flu does pose serious health complications for birds, health officials say the risk of it infecting people is low. The USDA recommends cooking turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to destroy any bacteria and prevent foodborne illness.