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Most of the incidents included in this 95-item list of agricultural incidents involving fires and “destroyed” poultry were not suspicious, according to authorities. More than 10 items were duplicates, factually incorrect or did not appear to have happened at all.
Fifty incidents involved thousands of chickens or turkeys being killed because they were exposed to a highly contagious avian influenza. More than 15 items on the list were fires that officials said weren’t suspicious.
Experts in fire research and avian influenza said the list’s legitimate incidents do not demonstrate that there is an ongoing effort to create food shortages.
It’s a frighteningly specific list of 95 agricultural incidents involving fires and "destroyed" poultry — and it’s all over social media.
"1 — 4/30/21 Monmouth Smithfield Foods pork processing plant
"2 — 7/25/21 Memphis Kellogg plant
"3 — 8/13/21 JBS beef plant"
And it ends:
"93 — 5/29/22 200,000 Chickens killed in fire in Minnesota
"94 — 5/31/22 3,000,000 chickens destroyed at Forsman egg farm facility in Stockholm Township, Minnesota
"95 — 6/2/22 30,000 ducks destroyed at Duck farm Berks Pennsylvania."
"You are duped if you think they aren’t planning a food shortage," read a version we found posted June 7 on Facebook. "Far too many reasons to make sure you are stocked up for when things get much tighter."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
PolitiFact wondered if there was anything to this lengthy claim, so we reviewed each of the incidents cited and found no merit to the suggestion that anything nefarious is afoot.
More than half are the result of a raging poultry epidemic. Seven incidents on the list were duplicates — sometimes repeated within a few lines of each other.
And out of roughly 30 fires listed, PolitiFact found only one was determined to have been intentionally set.
Others didn’t happen when the list said they did. The post said a fire destroyed a meat plant in Fayetteville, Illinois, in February, for example. But that fire actually happened on Jan. 11, 2021, and officials said it was not considered suspicious. Similarly, in April 2020, a chicken processing plant in Delaware killed nearly 2 million chickens as a result of COVID-19 related staff shortages. The post wrongly claimed those chickens were killed in April 2022.
We were unable to find evidence that two incidents — 76,400 turkeys being destroyed in Osceola County, Iowa, in March and 2 million chickens being destroyed at an egg laying farm in Minnesota in April — happened at all.
Here’s what we learned about the other 84 incidents listed in the post:
Fifty of the incidents listed involved birds such as chickens, turkeys or ducks being killed to contain an ongoing outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza. It is very contagious and often fatal among birds.
Using local news reports and a U.S. Department of Agriculture database that tracks confirmed detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza, PolitiFact verified that 50 of the items on the list refer to incidents where the virus was detected, which resulted in — or will result in — the impacted flocks being killed.
Rick Coker, a spokesperson for the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said that the virus is currently spreading across the U.S. "primarily due to the migration of wild birds."
Once the virus is detected, the goal is to humanely kill infected flocks within 24 hours of diagnosis to reduce the presence of the virus in the environment, he said. Avian flu doesn’t usually spread to humans but there have been some rare cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 38 million birds have died or been killed to contain the virus in the 2022 outbreak so far. Even so, Coker said, "there is no reason to believe that this or any other (highly pathogenic avian influenza) outbreak was suspicious or that any entity is targeting the U.S. poultry supply."
"Avian influenza is ubiquitous in the environment and when conditions are favorable the virus can spread quickly unchecked," he said, adding that the virus detected in the United States closely matches genetically with the virus that has been circulating in wild bird populations in Europe since 2021.
The post included 30 additional fires at places such as farms, food processing plants and storage facilities.
As of June 14, PolitiFact found only one fire that investigators said was set intentionally — and the fire destroyed a food pantry, not a "food plant" as the post claimed.
Garrard County Food Pantry in Kentucky was destroyed by a fire on Nov. 14, 2021, and law enforcement officials arrested a woman and charged her with second degree arson and first degree criminal mischief, according to news reports.
A majority of the fires listed — 18 — weren’t suspicious and were instead accidental or caused by typical malfunctions you might expect at farms and food manufacturing facilities, according to local officials.
For example, a fire caused significant damage to a building at the Shadow Brook Farm and Dutch Girl Creamery in Lancaster County, Nebraska on Feb. 28. The state fire marshal said it was an accidental electrical fire.
Nine fires remained under investigation as of June 14, but some early reports indicated that officials did not suspect foul play. Two fires had unknown causes, and it was not clear based on news reports whether they were being investigated.
Birgitte Messerschmidt, the director of research for the National Fire Protection Association, said fires are more common than most people realize.
"It can sound like a lot when you hear about several of these fires," Messerschmidt said. "But it really is nothing out of the ordinary." She said she’s researched fires in food manufacturing and food storage for years and "they’ve been happening around the globe, regularly."
Messerschmidt said she has not noticed a notable uptick in fires at food production sites in 2022. After looking into the recent fires, she said she has found nothing to indicate there is a link between the fires or that a group might be trying to intentionally create food shortages.
In addition, we found that the post relayed incorrect information about some of the fires. The post claimed a "barn full" of cows burned in March, implying the animals died, for example, but local farmers actually rescued 42 cows from a Pennsylvania dairy farm blaze on March 13.
The post also included a few other incidents, most of which remain under investigation as of June 14. It is unclear what impact, if any, some of these incidents had on food production.
People were exposed to an ammonia leak at Lincoln Premium Poultry in Fremont, Nebraska, on Feb. 19. Plant operations were put on hold.
A pilot delivering packages for UPS died on April 13 after her plane crashed into a Gem State Processing Plant. Officials are investigating the crash. The plant did not appear significantly damaged, photos of the scene show.
On April 21, a plane crashed into an isolated area of a General Mills cereal plant, killing two aboard. No one on the ground was injured. The cause of the crash had not yet been determined, and the investigation could take up to two years.
A Florida East Coast Railway cargo train carrying limestone derailed on May 19. Officials said the derailed cars were empty and the cause of the derailment had not been determined.
Facebook posts sharing a 95-item list of alleged food-destroying incidents said the list demonstrates that "you are duped if you think they aren’t planning a food shortage."
Most of the incidents listed involved chickens or turkeys being killed because they were exposed to a highly contagious avian influenza and many referenced fires that officials said weren’t suspicious. The post relayed incorrect information about some of the incidents, and we found no evidence that two incidents happened at all.
Experts in fire research and avian influenza said the list’s legitimate incidents do not demonstrate that there is an ongoing effort to create food shortages.
We rate this post False.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Interview with Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of research for the National Fire Protection Association, June 9, 2022
Email interview with Rick Coker, Public Information Officer Liaison/JIC Deputy for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, June 13, 2022
PolitiFact, "No, food-plant fires aren’t attempt to create food shortages," April 26, 2022
The Register-Mail, "Thursday fire at Monmouth’s Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant stays under investigation," April 30, 2021
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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Fire severely damages family-owned Cobb meat company," Aug. 24, 2021
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WVTM 13, "Large fire at Tyson poultry meal plant in Hanceville, Alabama," July 31, 2021
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KXLY.com, "Large fire damages Idaho Darigold plant," Oct. 13, 2021
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LEX 18 News, "Fire destroys Garrard County food pantry," Nov. 15, 2021
WKYT, "Woman charged in Garrard County Food Pantry fire," Nov. 14, 2021
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The National Provisioner, "Maid-Rite fire ruled accidental," Dec. 1, 2021
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News 4 SA, "Storage freezer cause of fire at West Side warehouse," Dec. 13, 2021
CHCH-TV, "Crews battle ‘stubborn fire’ on Hamilton Mountain, damage in the millions," Jan. 7, 2022
KALB, "Firefighters work over 12hrs putting out Lecompte feed mill fire," Jan. 13, 2022
WXII NBC News 12, "State opens investigation into Winston Weaver fertilizer plant fire," Feb. 9, 2022
WKOW, "Wisconsin River Meats open for business after a near total loss," Feb. 5, 2022
VT Digger, "Fire kills at least 130 cows at Stowe dairy farm," Feb. 3, 2022
Stowe Reporter, "Fire destroys Percy family barn," Feb. 3, 2022
CBS 4 News, "Commercial building fire in South El Paso sparks demands from residents," Feb. 15, 2022
The Oregonian, "Employees laid off after fire guts Oregon potato chip plant," March 9, 2022
Reuters, "Louis Dreyfus reports fire at largest U.S. soy processing plant," Feb. 16, 2022
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WOWT 6 News, "Three exposed to chemical spill at Fremont poultry plant," Feb. 20, 2022
Longview News-Journal, "Fire destroys Deli Star meat plant in St. Clair County," Jan. 12, 2021
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YakTriNews.com, "Chemicals burned in Sunnyside agricultural plant fire generate hazardous runoff, triggering evacuations," Feb. 28, 2022
Yakima Herald-Republic, "Private contractor hired for cleanup after fire at Sunnyside fertilizer plant," March 9, 2022
KETV 7, "Fire injures man on farm outside Lincoln," Feb. 28, 2022
Lincoln Journal Star, "Days after fire, Shadow Brook Farm operators eye rebuild," April 6, 2022
Associated Press, "Bird flu confirmed in chicken flock in southeastern Missouri," March 4, 2022
CecilDaily.com, "Avian influenza found in Cecil County poultry farm," March 5, 2022
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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, "USDA Confirms Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in a Commercial Poultry Flock in Delaware," Feb. 23, 2022
ScienceFriday.com, "Millions Of Iowa Chickens Infected With Deadly Strain Of Bird Flu," March 25, 2022
Fox Business, "Bird flu case forces killing of 5.3 million chickens in Iowa," March 18, 2022
Reading Eagle, "Farmers in northeastern Berks come to aid of fellow dairyman in rescue of 42 cows from burning barn," March 14, 2022
Eyewitness 7 News, "Bird flu 2022: Crews dispose of nearly 3M flu-stricken chickens from Wisconsin farm," March 30, 2022
Fox 59, "Investigators closer to finding cause of Walmart distribution center fire," March 23, 2022
13 WTHR, "ATF finishes work at site of Plainfield Walmart fulfillment center fire," March 29, 2022
Food manufacturing, "Fire Shutters Arkansas Nestle Frozen Foods Plant," March 22, 2022
KFVS 12, "Nestle fire under investigation, ‘malicious intent’ not suspected," March 16, 2022
KTVO, "Bird flu case forces killing of 5.3 million chickens in Iowa," March 21, 2022
Des Moines Register, "5.3 million laying hens to be destroyed as bird flu reported at fourth Iowa facility," March 18, 2022
Dakota News Now, "Concerns on the rise as bird flu spreads throughout the U.S.," March 22, 2022
Norfolk Daily News, "570,000 broiler chickens to be destroyed as bird flu hits Nebraska poultry farm," March 22, 2022
The Hill, "570K chickens to be destroyed in Nebraska fight against bird flu," March 23, 2022
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MagicValley.com, "Report: UPS plane hit smokestack in fatal Heyburn crash," May 8, 2022
The News & Observer, "Plane crashes into Idaho potato and food processing plant, killing the pilot, cops say," April 14, 2022
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Columbia Community Connection, "Azure Standard warehouse near Dufur burns to the ground; no one injured," April 20, 2022
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Fox 5 Atlanta, "NTSB release new details in deadly plane crash at General Mills plant in Covington," May 14, 2022
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MSN, "Freight train derails in Jensen Beach," May 19, 2022
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