No National Disaster Declaration For Bird Flu

There have been no announced discoveries of bird flu in any Iowa county poultry facilities since June.

by Jason W. Brooks, Newton Daily News / August 19, 2015

(TNS) - When the U.S. Department of Agriculture denied Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s request for an avian influenza (AI) disaster declaration, it led Iowa farmers and state-level industry organizations to focus on rebuilding the state’s poultry production industry, which helps account for thousands of jobs.

Not only did the governor make a decision in late July to extend the state’s disaster declaration for a third time, to Aug. 30 instead of its planned July 31 expiration, but also, farms have begun to repopulate their flocks.

The extension basically gives agencies and organizations dedicated to stopping the outbreak the resources and authority needed in an emergency.

While the Centers for Disease Control has long considered the virus to be of very low risk to humans, the economic and biological issues within the poultry industry are still of high concern.

Jasper County is hardly the biggest player in the Iowa poultry industry, but it does have a stake in the success of the trade. According to 2012 U.S. AgCensus statistics, Jasper ranks 60th among Iowa’s 99 counties in dollar value of its poultry and eggs. However, that also puts Jasper 629th on a list of more than 3,000 American counties.

Amber Samson of Prairie City is the National Poultry Improvement Plan tester for Jasper County. She said the amount of cutbacks in poultry production — along with drastically scaled-back FFA and 4H competition involving birds — has likely reduced the workload of those who test for Pullorum Typhoid.

“As a tester, I have never been called to test anyone’s poultry; I was just certified last year,” Samson said. “However, I would anticipate other testers have been less busy. There is no real need for us to test for when all exhibitions and sales have been called off, unless a producer is interested in knowing or is selling birds privately and the buyer has asked for it.”

Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, said it’s going to be a long, tough road — but Iowa farmers have weathered through far worse tribulations than the AI outbreak.

“There is no doubt that this has been an unprecedented crisis for Iowa’s egg farming community, and one that has taken a terrible emotional and financial toll on our farmers,” Olson said. “The resilience of our farmers and their commitment to recovery cannot be understated — they are working tirelessly to fully and swiftly restore egg production in our state and to minimize continued disruption in the egg market.”

There have been no announced discoveries of AI in any Jasper County poultry facilities.

Even though the last discovery was in Wright County in late June, farmers and regulators are cautiously optimistic about repopulating. The virus spreads much more easily in the winter, when birds are in more close contact with each other, so a summer slowdown to the spread is not surprising. It’s the next fall and winter cycle that has the industry on edge.

Iowa, the nation’s leading egg-producing state, lost the largest share of birds to the flu, as more than 30 million had to be euthanized this year at more than 70 sites; Olson said that’s a loss of about 40 percent of the egg-laying flock.

The egg-laying flock alone could take more than a year to replace, Olson said — and that’s if there are no further outbreaks that would slow repopulation.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has announced plans to lift the vast majority of control zones that were established around premises in Iowa infected with AI. Olson said initial work in the recovery process is well underway on the vast majority of the state’s egg farms, with a specific focus on the following items:

  • Full cleaning and disinfection of farm buildings, equipment and housing.
  • Ongoing engagement with federal and state agencies assisting with the recovery operations.
  • Re-establishment and enhancement of robust on-farm biosecurity and disease prevention programs.
  • Thorough testing of barns and the farm environment to assure no disease pathogens are present prior to reintroduction of birds to the farm.
  • Repopulation of flocks and the production of safe, high-quality, nutritious eggs.

President Barack Obama denied a disaster declaration for avian influenza, submitted by Branstad, who sent a letter to the Obama administration, asking for unemployment assistance and other remedies for affected people in Wright, Sioux, Webster and Buena Vista counties.

Branstad also requested a tonnage waiver on federal roads that would allow poultry carcasses to be more quickly transported for disposal. Both Iowa U.S. senators, Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, said they were disappointed with the Obama administration’s decision to deny the disaster assistance.

“The crippling impact has devastated Iowa’s poultry industry, farmers, producers and local communities,” said Ernst.

The USDA has more than 2,200 staff and contractors helping respond to the avian influenza situation in Iowa. A new USDA Incident Management Team (IMT) rotated in recently and took over oversight of the USDA’s activities. More than 300 Iowa state employees — from a variety of agencies — have participated in the disaster response.

All bird owners can pose questions to the state veterinarian at 515-281-5321 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Information will also be posted to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s website. Email can be sent to BirdFlu@IowaAgriculture.gov.

Olson said egg farmers can rally to help their side of the industry get back to where it was a year ago, and beyond.

“Together, with their employees, families and communities, Iowa’s egg farmers are looking toward the future,” Olson said. “And to fully resuming egg production in the state following the devastating crisis. Restoring Iowa’s egg industry to its pre-AI levels will take some time, but egg farmers are committed to maintaining an aggressive timeline.”


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©2015 the Newton Daily News (Newton, Iowa)

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