Despite the government’s efforts, bird flu is continuing to spread across the country. The first cases were detected with the arrival of migratory birds a few weeks ago, and over the past few days worse news came: the first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza was confirmed in commercially-farmed birds in Río Negro province.
The discovery means that the country has temporarily lost its status as free from the disease, and has suspended its own exports of poultry products, in compliance with international norms. It’s a hard blow to a business that generates around US$400 million of foreign currency each year.
Contacts in the sector say that the propagation of the disease, and the consequent halt to shipments, will inevitably cause oversupply of chicken on the internal market. This will ultimately cause further difficulties for an industry that was already facing major hurdles, in a context in which domestic consumption wasn’t growing and activity was affected by rising costs as a result of the drought.
After the first case was detected, Agriculture secretary Juan José Bahillo said: “Our poultry products are still safe for Argentines. The export suspension is a response to requirements under international regulations.”
Looking forward, the National Healthcare and Agrifood Quality Service (SENASA) is working not only to contain the disease, but also to resume exports soon. The industry needs exports, since some products, such as feet, are not consumed on the domestic market and companies in the sector have contracts to fulfill.
The confirmed positive case is from a broiler chicken facility in Mainque, Río Negro, to the south of the Patagonian animal and phytosanitary health barrier, in a zone with a low density of poultry producers. SENASA president Diana Guillén said in this context that the facility was told to “quarantine and sacrifice birds”, adding: “it must be cleaned and they have to wait out a 28-day cycle before a fresh examination of what happened there.”
She said of the production that cannot be exported that “they can turn to the internal market” and called on the population “to remain calm, it can be consumed, because [the disease] is not transmitted through meat or eggs and what is sold comes from healthy companies.”
The greatest worry for the sector and the government itself is that, based on the detection of one case on the commercial circuit, protocol indicates that the entire flock has to be slaughtered, which will generate economic losses for the affected producer. The agricultural bureau is putting together potential financial assistance proposals in those individual cases.
Of the 177 notifications analysed by SENASA’s laboratory to date, there have been 25 confirmed cases (three in wild birds, 21 in backyard birds, and one in the commercial sector. They have been found in the provinces of Córdoba (13), Buenos Aires (4), Río Negro (2), Santa Fe (2), Jujuy (1), Neuquén (1), San Luis (1) and Salta (1).
It is too early to say when exports might resume. That is why the Agriculture Ministry and SENASA are seeking to stop the spread of the disease. All eyes are on Entre Ríos province, where most of Argentina’s birds are farmed.