Poultry industry groups and government officials continued a two-day convocation on bird flu in Iowa on Wednesday, trying to understand what caused an outbreak this spring to reach such a dramatic scale that it cost Midwestern poultry farmers 48 million birds. They’re also evaluating how to mitigate a potential outbreak this fall when migratory birds, the virus carriers, take wing.
One of the tools poultry producers may consider is a vaccine. “We have a seed strain that appears to be fairly successful with reference to chickens," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a congressional hearing last week. "It's now in the process of being tested for turkey.”
Another focus is biosecurity on farms. That might mean disinfecting delivery trucks that service multiple facilities or keeping wild birds out of barns.
“These were all things that were done on paper, and whether or not they were done in practice is debatable,” says agriculture consultant Tom Elam of FarmEcon LLC.
Elam said producers may have gotten sloppy about biosecurity measures because they had gone so long without problems. He doubts an outbreak in the fall would be as extensive as the spring outbreak, but he’s glad the USDA is planning for a “worst-case scenario” of managing 500 bird flu cases simultaneously — double the amount in the spring. The agency is adding 450 temporary workers in case of a large-scale fall outbreak.
Elam says the agency was too slow this spring to euthanize birds and to clean up infected facilities.
“Perhaps we saw those houses that weren't cleaned up properly responsible for spreading the infection to nearby farms,” he says.
The government response to bird flu is the subject of a congressional agriculture committee hearing Thursday.