China has banned all imports of US poultry and eggs following the detection of avian influenza in the Pacific Northwest late last year, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

China’s actions follow the discoveries of a strain of H5N8 influenza in wild birds and in a backyard flock of guinea fowl and chickens in Oregon last month, as well as the detection of another strain in California and Washington. The cases were confirmed by the USDA.

Effective January 8, all poultry and poultry-related products shipped from the US to China will be returned or destroyed. The ban also covers poultry breeding stock, including live chicks and hatching eggs, according to the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

China now joins the ranks of twenty-plus other countries, including South Korea and South Africa, which have imposed restrictions on poultry imports from certain US states or the entire US since the USDA confirmed bird flu in Whatcom Country, Washington in mid-December.

Between January and November 2014, US exports of chicken, turkey, and duck products to China reached almost $272 million. That translates to 239,768 million pounds of chicken and 55,923 million pounds of turkey, making China the sixth-largest importer of US chicken meat and the second-largest turkey importer, according to USDA data.

The USDA has indicated that bird-flu viruses have not been found in any commercial flocks, and the detections in noncommercial birds pose “no immediate public health concern.” While the strains of avian flu have been detected in Oregon, California, and Washington, the majority of US chicken production occurs in Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, and other Southern states, and Iowa was the nation’s largest egg producer in 2014.

The USA Poultry and Egg Export Council has criticized the ban as drastic and unjustified. “In fact, these isolated and remote incidents are hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from major poultry and egg production areas,” said Jim Sumner, president of the trade group. Similarly, Brett Stuart, chief executive of Global AgriTrends in Denver, calls the ban “somewhat hypocritical,” given the absence of bird-flu in commercial poultry flock in the US and the existence in China of “a variety of avian influenza strains.”

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