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King: Funding helps farmers versus H5N2

By Staff | May 7, 2015

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FORT?DODGE – Iowa remains in a state of emergency following an outbreak of H5N2, a virulent strain of avian influenza commonly referred to as bird flu.

With the potential, as of Tuesday morning, to see 20 million turkeys and laying hens destroyed in Iowa, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the U.S. government has released $330 million to help farmers through the losses.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture is working to contain the outbreak in Iowa, overseeing the destruction of poultry that have died from the disease.

In Iowa’s fourth Congressional district, the top egg-producing district in America, more than 15 million birds have been lost from the virus, and as many as 5 million more could be lost, King said.

-AP file photo AS OF TUESDAY MORNING, an estimated 20 million Iowa domestic birds — 458,000 turkeys, 257,000 pullets and 19.3 million laying hens could be lost since the April 14 Iowa outbreak of H5N2, a highly pathogenic avian influenza. The virus is lethal to birds, but poses no danger for humans, said the Center for Disease Control.

“The scope of this is not something they were prepared for,” King said. “We first got the news of this two weeks ago, and immediately, as soon as I got on the ground, when I could be there, I went up and visited the first location, up at Sunrise Farms in Harris, in Osceola County, met on that … conference call with 25 people.”

In addition to disposing of the dead and euthanized birds, APHIS is also remunerating farmers for their stock.

“APHIS has a system for these kinds of losses, where if you have a disease break in your herd … they will come in and pay for, or indemnify, the live birds, not the dead ones,” King said. “It’s set up that way to encourage people who have a disease that breaks in their flock or herd to report that to APHIS as quickly as possible, because you get paid for those that haven’t yet died.”

He added, “I think that’s the right thing to do. It’s a little bit of counter-intuitive thinking, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Already, the volume of lost poultry is substantial.

“Just on the Sunrise Farms in Harris, that location of 3.6 or 3.7 million birds, if you think of the volume of birds that need to be processed and eliminated, it comes to the equivalent of 533 tandem dump truck loads, like if you ordered a load of gravel,” King said. “That’s what we’re dealing with at just one location.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said the total number of commercial poultry affected as of Tuesday morning was more than 20 million birds.

The Office of Management and Budget is providing funds for USDA to deal with the emergency, King said.

“There was a $30 million transfer in order to address the first location at Sunrise Farms,” he said. “And then there is another $300 million that has been transferred since then.”

The cost-per-bird has not been defined yet, King said.

“Right now, that looks like it’s enough money to at least address those circumstances that we know today,” he said. “I don’t know how much money is left in that OMB fund, but we are communicating through USDA, and our ag committee staff is watching that fund.”

The outbreaks can’t be resolved properly, King said, until it is known how the infection is transferred.

“There are a number of theories, but it’s not scientifically proven,” he siad. “One of them is that … the H5N2 virus can just simply be part of a dust particle that blows on the wind, and blown into the sheds. If that’s the case, there’s almost no way to keep them out.

“The second way, and this is a theory I hear more often, is that migratory water fowl fly overhead, and their droppings land on the roof of the buildings, and it when it rains it washes them off and the wind blows it into the sheds, and they get infected in that fashion.”

Solutions to control the outbreak and begin repopulation include increasing bio-security by installing air filters, and developing a vaccine for H5N2.

“Each of these baby chicks could be vaccinated at the hatchery, and then populate these laying hens in this fashion. That looks like the most likely thing to happen,” King said. “I know that we can produce the vaccine and we’ll be able to do so in significant volume in order to handle this, but there are a number of hoops that have to be jumped through by the USDA before that can be the case.”

He added, “Our disease lab people are excellent at making vaccines to address the specific variety. I’m confident that can be done, and in short order.”

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