HPAI Impact on Turkeys: What does this mean for Thanksgiving?

High path avian influenza (HPAI) has been a source of concern and stress for the poultry industry in 2022, and rightfully so. The latest figures released by United States of Agriculture (USDA) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) reports a loss of more than 50 million birds in the US commercial poultry industry due to HPAI. This number now puts 2022 on par with the 2015 outbreak where the commercial poultry industry lost just over 50 million head of birds (Ramon et al. 2017), representing about 12 percent of the U.S. table-egg laying population and 8 percent of turkeys grown for meat purposes (Ramon et al., 2017). 

A question repeatedly asked by integrators, government agencies, and the like since the start of this outbreak, is what do we know about the current strain of HPAI and how do we stop the spread? It’s been well established that HPAI is spread through the droppings of wild birds as they migrate from north to south during the fall and spring season. Domesticated poultry are often introduced to the virus through the droppings themselves or from indirect exposure through a contaminated environment. 

Compared to 2015, this year’s HPAI strain is much more infectious. It’s classified as a subtype of H5N1, but with many internal gene reassortants. These reassortant viruses (HPAIVs) continue to predominate at about 80% of wild bird viruses and 77% of findings in domestic poultry (Pantin-Jackwood, 2022). Interestingly, HPAIVs appear to affect domestic poultry differently. Dr. Mary Pantin-Jackwood from USDA reported that HPAIVs are highly infectious in turkeys, whereas chickens need higher amounts of the virus to become infected and the transmission is overall poor. Regardless, once turkeys and chickens are infected, they experience high mortality and typically excrete higher amounts of the virus from the oropharyngeal and cloacal routes. 

As previously noted, turkeys appear to be more susceptible to the virus and transmit it better compared to chickens. Unfortunately, we are seeing this effect on the turkey industry as they are reporting losses upwards of 5.5 million birds for 2022. This past July, ready-to-cook turkey production totaled 391 million pounds, making this one of the lowest output values since February of 1999 (Jordan, 2022). Due to the significant losses, USDA reported that the impact of HPAI on production was expected to be most significant during the second and third quarters of 2022 but with hopes of rebounding during the fourth quarter, which includes the Thanksgiving holiday. So, the question is, what can consumers expect on pricing and availability of turkeys this year? 

The turkey market was already trending higher regarding prices, and now with the additional HPAI impact, the markets have risen even further. The USDA has reported market prices for frozen 8-to-16-pound hens above $1.60 per pound. Trending even higher, is the fresh whole turkey category, which is reaching upwards of $1.80 per pound. According to Mark Jordan, journalist with Watt Poultry, spot prices are well positioned to stretch even further into record territory with the peak marketing stretch for Thanksgiving still ahead. Due to the higher prices we expect to see reflected in retail, consumers may consider pursuing alternatives for their holiday meal such as hams, beef tenderloins, or Cornish chickens. However, these alternative proteins may also see an increase in retail price this coming holiday season. It’s safe to say consumers should be prepared to spend a little bit more at the case this year compared to previous years regardless of their protein source. 

As we move into 2023, we are hopeful that we can begin the recovery process of what was lost in this year’s HPAI outbreak. This has not been an easy time for the poultry industry, but if we’ve learned anything from our history, we know that we’re resilient and we will build back what we’ve lost. It takes all sectors to come together and support one another during a time such as this, and we see the evidence of that happening daily. From all of us at dsm-firmenich, we wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with joy and community. If you are having turkey this Thanksgiving (and we hope you do!), check out below for a few fun ideas for your leftover turkey!

Turkey Leftover Ideas:
- Turkey Pot Pie (Dad's Leftover Turkey Pot Pie Recipe (allrecipes.com))
- Turkey Chili (Turkey Chili Recipe - Healthy Recipes Blog (healthyrecipesblogs.com))
- Turkey Salad (The Best Leftover Turkey Salad - Just a Taste)
- Turkey Patties (Turkey Patties: Use Up Leftover Turkey - Healthy Recipes Blog (healthyrecipesblogs.com)

Jordan, M. Turkey prices explode ahead of Thanksgiving. Poultry Market Prospects. Watt Poultry. October 2022 issue. 
Pantin-Jackwood, Mary J. 2022. Overview of the 2022 H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenze Situation. USDA. 2022 NMPHPLP Presentation. Ocean City, Maryland. 
Ramon, S., M. MacLachlan, and A. Melton. 2017. Impacts of 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector. USDA. Economic Research Service. 
United States Department of Agriculture. 2022. Avian Flu Outbreak Reducing 2022 Turkey Production. USDA Data Products. USDA ERS - Chart Detail.



Published on

21 November 2022


  • Poultry


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