PUBLIC HEALTH

A strain of bird flu has been detected in a chicken breeder flock on a Tennessee farm contracted to U.S. food giant Tyson Foods Inc, and the 73,500 birds will be culled to stop the virus from entering the food system, government and company officials told Reuters on Sunday. That news comes at the same time a surge in human infections of the deadly bird flu in China is prompting increasing concern among health officials around the world, the Washington Post reports. While the human risk of these outbreaks is low at the moment, experts are calling for constant monitoring because of the large increase in cases this season, and because there are worrisome changes in the virus.

Finding HPAI on a U.S. farm is worrisome for two reasons. First, U.S. officials say that of all emerging influenza viruses, this particular virus poses the greatest risk of a pandemic threat if it evolves to spread readily from human to human, according to a Centers for Disease Control report released Friday. Second, the farm is located in the Mississippi Flyway, one of four major bird migration routes in North America, which means the virus could be transmitted via migrating wild birds such as ducks and geese to other farms, potentially causing catastrophic losses to poultry farms in states such as Arkansas and Mississippi.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the Lincoln County, Tenn., case represented the first confirmed case of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza (HPAI) in commercial poultry in the United States this year. Tyson, the biggest chicken meat producer in the United States, said in a statement it was working with Tennessee and federal officials to contain the virus by euthanizing the birds on the contract farm.

USDA advises all bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state or federal officials, either through their state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for flocks can be found HERE.Read more HERE, HERE and HERE.

TERRORISM

Congress will consider agro-terrorism: Agro-terrorism, which has been around as a fear since 9/11, is getting new attention with the introduction in Congress of the Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act, according to Food Safety News. Text of the bill is not yet available, but it is said to include high-risk events involving food, agriculture and livestock. It was jointly introduced into the House and Senate earlier this week by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including some agricultural leaders. Agro-terrorism risks have brought legislative reaction previously. It’s the reason food production facilities have had to register since 2002, and it’s the reason for the food defense rule in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). READ MORE

Controversial raid yields ‘contacts’: Several US officials told CNN late last week that the U.S. is now taking action to locate and monitor hundreds of people or “contacts” found as part the intelligence retrieved during the deadly raid last month in Yemen targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Some of these people are believed to be in the West, but not in the United States. READ MORE

WATER SAFETY

A different kind of Montezuma’s revenge? The massive sewage spill in Tijuana, Mexico, that polluted Southern California beaches last month may have been intentional, state and local officials allege in an article in the Los Angeles Times. More than 140 million gallons of sewage spilled into the Tijuana River in Mexico that flowed into the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. side of the border. The spill, which befouled area waters from Feb. 4 to Feb. 23, was caused during repairs to a major sewer pipe, the International Boundary and Water Commission said. While cross-border sewage spills of a few million gallons are routine for the region, this is one of the largest such events in the last two decades, water quality experts in San Diego told the Times. “Was the spill intentional? Well, yeah,” said Dave Gibson, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. “It appears they were working on the pipeline. I don’t believe that it was a question of it failing.” READ MORE