| CHICAGO, March 27
CHICAGO, March 27 Georgia has confirmed its
first-ever case of bird flu in commercial poultry, its
agriculture department said on Monday, widening an outbreak of
the disease into the United States' biggest chicken
A flock of 18,000 chickens used for breeding was culled
after testing positive for H7 bird flu, according to the
agriculture department. It said the birds in far northwestern
Georgia were likely infected with a form of the virus that is
not highly lethal because the flock did not show signs of
The discovery came after officials in Alabama, Kentucky and
Tennessee confirmed cases of highly pathogenic, or lethal, and
low pathogenic H7N9 bird flu in breeding operations this month.
U.S. officials have said the risk of the disease spreading to
people from poultry or making food unsafe is low.
But the spread of highly pathogenic bird flu to poultry in
new states would represent a financial risk for meat companies
because it could kill more birds or require flocks to be culled.
It could also trigger more import bans from other countries
after South Korea and other buyers limited U.S. poultry
shipments following highly pathogenic cases in Tennessee.
The worst-ever U.S. outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu
in poultry in 2014 and 2015 killed about 50 million birds, most
of which were egg-laying hens in Iowa.
More than 200,000 breeding chickens in Georgia, Alabama,
Tennessee and Kentucky have been killed in recent weeks by high
and low pathogenic bird flu or culled to contain the virus,
according to state officials. U.S. poultry producers had about
55.1 million breeder hens on hand as of March 1, according to
In 2015, Georgia produced 7.9 billion pounds of chicken meat
valued at $4.2 billion, the agency said.
"Poultry is the top sector of our number one industry,
agriculture, and we are committed to protecting the livelihoods
of the many farm families that are dependent on it," Gary Black,
Georgia's agriculture commissioner, said in a statement.
Some companies are still feeling pressure related to the
On Monday, Cal-Maine Foods, the biggest U.S. egg
producer, said its quarterly sales fell about 32 percent from a
year ago because prices were under pressure after farmers
increased production in response to an outbreak two years ago.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Andrew Hay)