Poultry industry rebuilding itself, but still wary of bird flu recurrence
DES MOINES, Iowa-- Poultry and egg producers are gradually rebuilding stocks hard hit by avian influenza with the help of $700 million in federal assistance to fight the virus but concerns remains over prospects for a new outbreak this fall, offi...
DES MOINES, Iowa- Poultry and egg producers are gradually rebuilding stocks hard hit by avian influenza with the help of $700 million in federal assistance to fight the virus but concerns remains over prospects for a new outbreak this fall, officials said Tuesday.
“This is a disaster, but it’s a unique disaster,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was in Iowa to attend a two-day “lessons learned” conference of ag, poultry, research and trade participants sharing information on a virus that decimated turkey and chicken farms and could reoccur when cooler temperatures arrive and waterfowl migrate.
Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, said up to $400 million has gone into cleanup and disinfection efforts in the 21 states hit by the bird flu, while most of the $191 million in indemnification aid to producers has been dispersed and more money is being committed to developing a vaccine that can be stockpiled. There is hope a vaccine can prove 100 percent effective in stopping a disease initially spread by wild birds and facilitated by a number of other factors.
The economic toll of avian flu on the poultry industry in Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey-producing state, has reached nearly $650 million, the University of Minnesota Extension Service reported earlier this month.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told about 300 conference attendees that Iowa has suffered “catastrophic losses” due to an outbreak that cut Iowa’s annual 16.5 million egg production by 44 percent and hit turkey production by 11 percent. He said more than 400 workers have filed for state jobless insurance benefits since the bird flu arrived in Iowa last spring.
“It’s a disaster like no other that we have experienced in our state,” he said.
“The economic impact has been severe,” Branstad told the conference. “It ripples through the economy.”
The focus now turns to developing an effective vaccine, working to allay concerns among international trading partners and developing a list of disposal sites and protocols should an outbreak occur this fall.
Vilsack was hopeful an effective vaccine for chickens would be available soon and it would be a decision in each U.S. state whether to permit it given that some trading partners might bar imports of poultry or eggs because of the vaccinations.
Branstad said he was pleased to hear about progress in developing an effective vaccine but he added that further discussion will be needed with the USDA and with poultry industry officials and producers before deciding how to proceed.
“It’s somewhat complicated and we have to consider all ramifications in making a decision,” the Iowa governor said.
Branstad joined Vilsack in calling for Congress to implement a federal disaster program for poultry similar to what currently exists for livestock to provide for predictability and stability in financially challenging situations like the avian influenza outbreak.