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Thanksgiving’s dark side

by Bloomberg | November 21, 2022 at 4:11 a.m.

There will be plenty of cheap turkeys available for families to put on their tables this year. That is the problem.

The poultry industry sustained devastating losses from a bad strain of bird flu, with more than 50 million broiler chickens and turkeys infected and euthanized in the past nine months. The die-off inspired predictions of Thanksgiving shortages and steep price hikes, but domesticated poultry infections subsided in November, just as frozen turkeys were being hauled out of the industry's strategic frozen turkey reserve, easing the supply pinch and pulling down prices.

The cheapest birds will likely have been biding time in the freezer. A fresh bird will probably be smaller because the live turkeys that replaced sickened birds have had less time to grow to maturity.

Still, Americans won't have to worry about going without their turkey dinner, which leads to this concern: The population of birds euthanized this year could fill more than the square footage of Amazon's entire U.S. real estate footprint.

The U.S. produces nearly a fifth of the world's chicken and turkey supply. Much of the industry's growth took place in recent decades with the introduction of antibiotics, growth hormones, new breeds of fast-growing birds and massive climate-controlled poultry houses that have made it possible to more than double chicken production from 1990 to 2022.

No vaccines have yet been developed that can prevent avian influenza. And while vaccines can reduce morbidity, any infected bird must be killed--along with thousands of other birds in its facility--to control the outbreak.

The more deaths there are in the poultry industry, the more chickens and turkeys are raised to offset those deaths. And the ever-larger populations are more likely to spread disease and increase the impact when it hits.

How much longer can this vicious cycle continue before it explodes?

Print Headline: Thanksgiving’s dark side

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