China has lifted a ban on poultry imports from Minnesota that was imposed more than a year ago after an outbreak of avian flu.
The lifting of the ban this week reopens a major market for state turkey and chicken producers. China had been their No. 2 international market behind Mexico before the ban was imposed last November.
"It makes Christmas a little bit merrier," said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the state Chicken and Egg Association, trade groups for producers.
China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine ordered the ban last year after the H7 avian flu virus was detected in two turkey flocks in Wright County in June 2011.
Both flocks were immediately destroyed, the premises were cleaned and the successful response was reported to an international body that tracks avian flu strains, said Dr. Dale Lauer, a veterinarian with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health in Willmar, Minn.
At the time, several countries temporarily banned imports of poultry products from Wright County. China responded months after the incident with a ban on all Minnesota producers.
Olson said the state's 250 turkey producers immediately lost a growing market for processed turkey, especially dark meat. Chicken producers also lost a market for chicken feet, which are considered a delicacy in China.
Lauer said the outbreak of what is known as "low-pathogenic influenza" never represented an animal health concern or a human disease risk, and the sale of processed poultry posed no danger of spreading the disease. Even so, he said, China imposed a ban in an abundance of caution.
U.S. turkey exports to China were $133 million in 2011, an increase from the year before, but significantly below earlier years' exports. No Minnesota export figures were available, but Olson said the state's annual poultry exports to China probably exceeded $10 million before the ban. He said producers probably can regain their market share.
The lifting of the ban was announced on a Chinese government website Friday. The one-sentence order, which was dated Tuesday, said the Chinese agency it had completed its risk assessment and had lifted the ban.
Lauer said Minnesota has for years tested flocks for avian influenza because it can spread from wild birds through their droppings. He said about 10 to 20 introductions are detected each year, though most are not the strains of concern that require reporting to the World Organization for Animal Health. He said the reportable strains show up roughly every two or three years.
Avian flu or "bird flu" emerged as a human health concern in 1997 when the H5N1 subtype was first detected in Hong Kong residents. Since 2003, the World Health Organization has confirmed 610 human infections and 360 deaths. China has had 43 cases and 28 deaths; the United States has had none, according to WHO data released this week.
David Shaffer 612-673-7090