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Could chicken feces be the cause of cow flu outbreaks?




Could chicken feces be the cause of cow flu outbreaks?


Bird flu outbreaks have affected 34 herds of dairy cows in nine states, leading some to wonder whether using contaminated poultry litter as cow feed could be the source of the transmission, although experts say not enough is known to draw that conclusion.

Key facts

Poultry litter (also known as chicken or broiler litter) is a mixture of chicken feces, feathers and litter material such as sawdust, peanut shells and pine shavings that is swept up from chicken coops and typically used as fertilizer and feed for livestock, according to A study published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Although there is no federal regulation, some states like it California ban the use of poultry litter as feed for lactating dairy cows – the only cows affected by the bird flu outbreaks circulating in the US – but still allow its use in beef cows and other livestock.

Studies have shown that chicken litter can contain bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, so some experts are concerned The chicken litter that cows eat contains traces of the bird flu virus and is therefore the cause of bird flu outbreaks in cattle.

However, there isn’t enough information available about how exactly cows contracted the virus from birds to draw this conclusion, Jodie Guest, senior vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, told Forbes.

“We also don’t have a good understanding of how common this practice is,” she said, so until it is known how many of the affected flocks use chicken litter for feed, “it would be very difficult to connect the two.”

The Ministry of Agriculture said Wild migratory birds are believed to be the cause of the outbreaks, although it has been confirmed that infected unpasteurized milk can cause cow-to-cow transmission.

Forbes has contacted the Food and Drug Administration for comment.

Important background

Poultry litter is used as livestock feed because it is a cheap source of protein and a cheap way to get rid of waste. according to in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri. The FDA initially discouraged the use of poultry manure as feed 1967, but withdrew this suggestion in 1980 after extensive research was conducted and left the decision to the state governments. When the US reported its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (or mad cow disease), the FDA posted a temporary ban about feeding poultry manure in 2003 to prevent the spread of the disease. It’s later though reversed this decision and instead banned the use of cow brains and spinal fluid – known to transmit mad cow disease – in chicken feed. This is because chickens have the potential to spread mad cow disease to cows through poultry litter if the birds ingest and later excrete infected cow brains and spinal fluid. The European Union And Canada have banned the use of chicken litter as livestock feed due to the spread of diseases such as mad cow disease.


This would not be the first time that bird flu has spread to animals through contaminated food. All around 30 cases of bird flu among domestic cats was reported in 2023, although more are believed to have been affected. Some experts were concerned that contaminated mink meat was getting into cat food, due to a possible outbreak among mink. according to to The New York Times. Poland is the largest operator of mink farms in the European Union, and a previous outbreak of bird flu on mink farms in Spain was the first time proof There is transmission of the virus from mammal to mammal. There was also bird flu detected at cat shelters in South Korea in 2023, prompting officials to recall two types of cat food they believed to be the source of the outbreak.

Read further

Bird flu (H5N1) explained: USDA to test ground beef samples from supermarkets (Forbes)

Bird flu (H5N1): Why experts worry – and what you need to know (Forbes)