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An outbreak of bird flu is pushing poultry prices higher


Prices at the grocery store can be, well, startling these days. If you're trying to buy chicken, the sticker shock can be even uglier. The USDA says the average price for a pack of chicken breasts went up nearly 80 cents over the past week. Add to that concerns over an outbreak of bird flu, and those costs could keep going up. To dig into this a little more, we've asked Kathleen Liang to join us. She's a professor of sustainable agriculture at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Good morning, professor Liang.

KATHLEEN LIANG: Good morning, nice to be here.

FADEL: So how are these new bird flu outbreaks affecting what are so far a few commercial flocks?

LIANG: The - according to the scientists' report and other tracking system that people observe, right now, the poultry - the commercial flocks was affected. The number was about 22 million birds and then 24 in 24 states. And based on the evidence that it started with the wild bird and the mobility of the wild bird being in contact with domestic flock, and that was the situation based on all the reports.

FADEL: So what role is the - are these outbreaks playing in the high prices at the grocery store?

LIANG: That's a great question because, first of all, we have to euthanize the sick birds. Those birds will never come to the market. So the demand of the chicken remains high. The USDA also has data to show that chicken consumption is actually a little bit higher than the beef and the pork over the time.

FADEL: Right.

LIANG: And then another reason for the price situation beyond the bird flu going through is about the input - the cost affected by the current inflation situation and the influence of the input costs, such as the feed and the utilities, the gasoline, through the supply chain processing, transportation, the handling and even packaging. So it's two factors combined that we observe the price increase.

FADEL: So how can the industry limit bird flu outbreaks like this in the future?

LIANG: Now, there are two ways to look at it. In the short term, based on - again, based on the scientists' report, the industry is doing a really good job to improve the biosecurity to reduce the outbreak, such as reducing the contact with the wild bird and enhance the sanitization, clean up feed to avoid attracting wild bird and for workers to use protection gears, gloves and wash, shower, clearly after being contact with the flock. And for the long term, the technology and science advancement give us some advantage that we can identify better methods to detect, trace, monitor and identify the cases as soon as possible and then to improve the indoor-outdoor environment for chicken health and to identify alternative dietary to improve the immunization and the overall health for the whole flock.

FADEL: Kathleen Liang, professor at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University, thank you so much for being on the program.

LIANG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.