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Northwest States Track Bird Flu Cases, While Chicken Industry Feels Plucked

Bird-flu hotspots in the Northwest are hitting profits of commercial poultry farms in other parts of the U.S..

The state of Washington announced a new confirmed case of avian flu in a wild duck in Whatcom County Friday.

And now, increasing Northwest bird flu hot-spots are cutting into commercial poultry profits in the Midwest and South.

Sanderson Farms in Laurel, Mississippi, processes more than 9 million chickens per week. But now, commercially-grown chicken parts aren’t being allowed in China. It shut down soon after bird flu was discovered in the Northwest.

Mike Cockrell is the CFO of Sanderson Farms. He said Sanderson makes 20 percent of its total yearly profits off chicken feet and wing tips sold to China. He believes outbreaks in Northwest backyards and wildlife don’t have much to do with his operations.

“It shouldn’t impact poultry grown in the southeast, and in Mississippi and Georgia and North Carolina,” Cockrell said. “But in this particular case it did. It is certainly an integrated world now.”

Cockerell believes there are larger political and financial issues at play.

So far, there have been no reports of bird flu in commercial flocks.

The bird flu case in Whatcom County was found near Sumas. The sample was taken from a duck a hunter had shot. The duck had an H5N1 strain of the virus, but state agriculture officials say it’s not the same strain that sickened people in Asia 12 years ago.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.