If the bird flu vaccine is used, how will it affect your food?

Chick_wBrownEgg_resizedIt was recently announced that a vaccine to help protect the nation’s chickens from avian influenza has cleared a first hurdle with the Agriculture Department granting its maker a “conditional” license. This comes after more than 48 million birds died during an outbreak earlier this year and helps to ease some worries from farmers, producers and consumers alike, as migratory birds begin their travel south for the winter and the threat of reinfection looms.

But what exactly does this vaccine mean for the chicken and eggs we eat? A recent article explains the impact of the new vaccine on our food supply, and about what to look for when grocery shopping.

  • BIRD FLU FACT #1—there is  nothing to worry about yet.

    If you have fears about there being vaccine antibodies in your chicken, stuff them, the article states. The outbreak that we had in the spring is gone, so that’s been eradicated and no one is using the vaccine currently.

  • BIRD FLU FACT #2—the vaccine is a tool, not a cure.

    The vaccine will only be implemented if current strategies to contain the bird flu fail. The article explains those current strategies are to separate and kill the infected birds so the disease cannot spread into a larger population. The vaccine, on the other hand, would help protect the birds from getting infected, but it wouldn’t kill the disease. “It makes a less susceptible host, but they are not completely protected.” Plus, each chicken would have to be injected, an arduous process. “So therein lies the rub,” Carol Cardona from the University of Minnesota, said in the article. “It will be difficult to manage but it’s an important tool, if we need it.”

  • BIRD FLU FACT #3—there may not be anything to worry about at all.

    Even if the vaccine is used, Cardona said you shouldn’t be concerned when you feel like eating chicken for dinner. “The chickens you get from the grocery story are not vaccinated today. But if they were vaccinated, they’d have antibodies that would be suitable for consumption. Antibodies are different than antibiotics. An antibiotic is a chemical substance, an antibody is a protein. Antibodies are a natural way to fight infection. There’s nothing for the consumer to worry about,” she added.

  • BIRD FLU FACT #4—those antibodies are transferred to the eggs.

    “As mammals, we think of how our babies are protected when they’re born, and get antibodies from mother’s milk, right?” asks Cardona in the article. “Chickens get antibodies from the yolk. So, yes, eggs could have antibodies in them, if they ever use the vaccine.”

  • BIRD FLU FACT #5—the seal of approval matters.

    Before the chicken or eggs in question get to the grocery store they will have to be inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service, a branch of the USDA. It is them who will determine that it’s a healthful product for consumption and will be labeled with an USDA inspection seal.

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