There’s relief ahead for U.S. poultry farmers suffering through the worst ever domestic outbreak of bird flu.
As the weather warms, there’s likely to be fewer instances of the disease, which has already left 47 million dead birds, state officials said. In Minnesota, the largest turkey producer, there hasn’t been a new case in a week, and neighboring Wisconsin hasn’t had a detection in more than a month.
For Iowa, the biggest egg producer and the state that’s been hardest hit, the pace at which the virus is spreading has slowed and the latest probable finding was reported on June 8.
“We’re hopeful, nationally, that we’re on the downhill side,” Paul McGraw, Wisconsin’s state veterinarian, said in a telephone interview. “The virus does not survive very well in the environment when it’s warm. We also think that the wild ducks and geese are what brought it in, and most of their migration has maybe passed.”
The outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza that started late last year has pushed U.S. egg prices to a record and threatened turkey production. At stake is the $48 billion in poultry and eggs produced annually, government figures show. Buyers in the Middle East and Asia have placed restrictions on American exports, while governors in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin declared states of emergency in response to the outbreak.
Flocks with the virus are destroyed and none of the animals entered the food chain, the USDA has said. Now, the first farm that suffered the disease in Minnesota is starting to bring turkeys back into barns that have been cleaned out. More facilities that had the disease will start restocking this month, said Beth Thompson, the assistant director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health in St. Paul.
After a farm is confirmed to have the virus and birds are cleared, facilities sit empty for three weeks after they are cleaned and disinfected, and environmental samples must test negative before animals are allowed to re-enter, Thompson said.
In Iowa, some affected turkey farms will start bringing back birds within a few weeks, while it will probably be several months before hens re-enter egg facilities, Bill Northey, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said in a telephone interview. That’s because it takes longer to disinfect the cages, machinery and equipment, he said.
There’s risk that the disease could spread rapidly again in a few months, when temperatures turn colder and the wild ducks and geese believed to carry the virus fly south to warmer waters.
“We’re working with the industry to continue heightened biosecurity and not to let our guards down,” Wisconsin’s McGraw said.
When birds start migrating in the fall there will be cooler temperatures, and the virus “can survive longer in the environment, which gives us a greater risk of spreading it to domestic poultry,” he said.
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