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Avian flu outbreak forces major layoffs at Michigan’s largest poultry farm

A "USE BY" date is stamped on two cartons of eggs, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, in Chicago. As awareness grows around the world about the problem of food waste, one culprit in particular is drawing scrutiny: “best before” labels. Manufacturers have used the labels for decades to estimate peak freshness. Unlike “use by” labels, which are found on perishable foods like meat and dairy, “best before” labels have nothing to do with safety and may encourage consumers to throw away food that’s perfectly fine to eat. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
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AP
A "USE BY" date is stamped on two cartons of eggs, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, in Chicago. As awareness grows around the world about the problem of food waste, one culprit in particular is drawing scrutiny: “best before” labels. Manufacturers have used the labels for decades to estimate peak freshness. Unlike “use by” labels, which are found on perishable foods like meat and dairy, “best before” labels have nothing to do with safety and may encourage consumers to throw away food that’s perfectly fine to eat. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

One of the nation’s top egg producers and the biggest poultry farm in Michigan is laying off a third of its workforce in Ionia County to deal with an avian flu outbreak.

In a notice to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity last week, officials at Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch announced they would be laying off 400 employees and contractors.

“We expect this to largely be temporary, as we plan to rehire many positions as we work to repopulate our facilities and continue egg production as safely and quickly as possible,” said Greg Herbruck, CEO of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, in a statement.

In the last 30 days, more than 6.7 million birds across the state have been affected by the bird flu, with most infections taking place in Ionia County according to federal data.

Abigail, a contractor at Herbruck’s in charge of packaging eggs, said the company has been conducting regular surveys of its employees.

“They told me that I’m on the list and that right now they can’t give me another job at another farm but that I’ll only be off for two weeks and after that I’ll be able to return,” Abigail said.

Abigail requested that WKAR use her middle name because she’s an undocumented immigrant and worries about future employment.

“They don’t want the workers to be around others from different farms in case there’s an outbreak elsewhere,” she added.

So far, Michigan has seen the highest number of bird flocks affected in the country.

Earlier this month, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development declared an 'extraordinary emergency,' mandating dairy and poultry facilities to implement heightened biosecurity measures to curb further transmission.

Since April, there has only been one reported case of avian flu in humans in the U.S. Government and health officials say the risk for people remains low, as there have been no recorded outbreaks of avian flu transmission from human to human in the U.S.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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