KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In addition to the obvious effect this year’s avian influenza outbreak is having on egg prices, laying flock sizes and the embargo of some critical export markets for poultry processing companies, the issue of carcass disposal is becoming a challenge, especially in prominent egg-producing states, including Iowa, which is home to 58 million laying hens.

To date, more than 48 million birds have been culled, according to the US Department of Agriculture. With 75 cases of AI detected in the state of Iowa and nearly 32 million birds culled there, many landfills are no longer able to accept any more of the dead birds. At least one of the state’s three landfills the USDA contracted with to dispose of the birds utilizes an incinerator to speed up the process, but according to news reports, keeping pace is proving more than a little challenging.

Earlier this month, Steve Meyer, Ph.D., vice president of pork analysis for Express Markets Inc., told attendees of the 2015 Sosland Purchasing Seminar that carcass disposal in his home state of Iowa was developing into a problem. With the most recent case of AI detected there just 10 days ago, Meyer’s comments were prophetic.

At the time he said, “In Iowa right now we’ve got more than 30 million dead birds and we’re trying to figure out a place to go with them.”

He acknowledged the use of incinerators was helpful, but it has been a case of too little, too late.

“We are two months into this thing, and they are just now getting incinerators,” he said on June 1.

As expected, the number of outbreaks is leveling off with the onset of summer, but Meyer made the point that the USDA’s slow reaction in response to a side effect of AI could give a glimpse of a much bigger problem if another animal disease outbreak were to occur in the US.

“What it really suggests is that we are completely unprepared for a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak,” said Meyer, because of the fact that FMD would impact cattle, sheep and hogs, which are obviously much larger carcasses and would pose an even bigger disposal problem. “Things like disposing of animals becomes an unbelievable challenge in these situations; it’s almost hard to imagine.”