The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry met Tuesday to discuss avian influenza’s devastating effects on poultry flocks and egg production earlier this year as well as ways to contain potential outbreaks in the fall.
The virus, commonly known as bird flu, has killed more than 48 million chickens and turkeys since outbreaks began last December. Since then, egg production has dropped and egg prices have jumped.
This is the “worst animal health crisis in the nation’s history,” said Jim Dean, chairman of the United Egg Producers, who testified before the committee in Washington, D.C.
It’s been almost a month since bird flu was last detected in a domestic flock. Yet farmers are concerned that when pathogen-carrying wild birds migrate south in the fall, they will bring the virus back with them.
Witnesses at the hearing suggested various methods to restrict bird flu in the coming months, such as ramping up resources for poultry farmers; researching which biosecurity measures are best to protect poultry; improving communication among farms, contractors and government agencies; and increasing indemnification payment rates, or giving greater financial relief to farmers who lost the bulk or all of their flocks.
Brad Moline of the National Turkey Federation criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture for lagging communication and consequently slow and inefficient procedures to depopulate infected flocks.
“Our only chance of preventing further outbreaks … is to discover what went wrong and put into place effective countermeasures to prevent another occurrence and control it better if it does,” said Thomas Elam, agricultural economist and president of FarmEcon LLC.
Kansas has lost 10 birds in the outbreak, while more than 53,000 birds have been affected by the virus in Missouri.