Georgia, number one poultry producing state, on bird flu watch - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Georgia, number one poultry producing state, on bird flu watch

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

Don't count your eggs before they hatch. That's literally the case for one Savannah food supplier. Their egg inventory was cut short after more than 50 million chickens nationwide were killed because of the bird flu.

NLAWS Produce  is where most of the eggs that we order in local restaurants come from. Officials say it has been a tough year, because the price of eggs has doubled since last year. That means, higher prices for folks at the grocery store and eating at restaurants.

The bird flu that hit more than 20 states earlier this year is considered to be one of the worst outbreaks in U.S. history. It affected more than 200 poultry businesses, mostly in the Midwest. Nearly 50 million birds were killed, and while there have been no reported cases in the South, businesses around here are dealing with the tremors from the quake. Less birds means fewer eggs.

"You know, the price of one egg used to be so much, and when you're in a breakfast restaurant and your costing out your menu, you have to look at the actual price of an egg,” said Jay Cantrell, NLAWS Produce Salesman.

Jay Cantrell works in sales for N-Laws produce. They sell, by the bulk, to almost 75 percent of Savannah's local restaurants and hotels. Last year, they were selling 30 dozen eggs for $32, but this year it has been as high as $68. Their inventory was also cut short.

"Let's say we would expect three pallets of 30 dozen medium-sized eggs. We would end up getting maybe a pallet and a half,” Cantrell said.

While prices are better than they were a few months ago, the threat is not over. Even though the last case of bird flu was reported back in June in the Midwest, we aren’t in the clear yet.

“The worst thing about it is the disease is actually dormant in the hotter months, so we are a little nervous about the outcome going into fall,” said Cantrell.

Federal and state officials fear it could pop up as birds fly south for the winter. Georgia is the number one poultry producer in the United States, and an outbreak here could be devastating.

"It could be pretty bad. You're not going to get your omelets; you're not going to get your poached eggs,” said Cantrell.

He's just talking about the surface level. This could really paralyze commerce for the south.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just released a response plan on how they will react, should the flu pop up again. They describe their awareness level as if we were in the path of a hurricane.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said Georgia and surrounding states are at risk, as many birds begin to fly south for the winter. He said every flock is tested for the virus, but commercial and backyard poultry producers need to make sure they are following bio security guidelines, because people are often the vehicle of how this virus spreads so quickly.

"Limiting access to only their family members, disinfecting footwear, making sure they are not wearing footwear that was used in the chicken house, and not running out to Walmart,” said Commissioner Black.

According to the Centers of Disease Control, there have been no reported human infections in the U.S., but similar viruses have infected people in other countries. People in contact with birds should take precautions.

To view the preparedness and response plan just released by the Department of Agriculture, click here.

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