State Ag Secretary Bill Northey appeared before a legislative committee this afternoon to answer questions about the strain of bird flu that has struck in Iowa. When Northey testified at 2 p.m., officials had announced four more poultry operations in northwest Iowa had been placed under quarantine because the birds likely have avian influenza — and more than two million birds would have to be killed.
About half an hour after he finished speaking with legislators, Northey announced on a conference call with reporters that a fifth operation had been identified in Sioux County, impacting another 3.7 million birds.
Northey told lawmakers there “is some nervousness” that aerial transmission of the disease might be possible.
“We have seen it happen at some barns that would seem to have very intense biosecurity, so that raises that question and we all wish we had more of an answer right now, but there’s a lot of folks working on trying to get that,” Northey said.
More than 50 turkey flocks in Minnesota have been struck by the disease. The first case in Iowa was identified two weeks ago.
“All this effort to contain the disease is not about human health at all. There’s no food safety concern. No person has gotten H5N2 from birds,” Northey told legislators. “Certainly encourage folks to continue to consume products and not be worried about human safety, but we are very interested in trying to keep this disease from getting to other flocks.”
Northey said there is some financial help — through the U.S. Department of Agriculture — for poultry operations that are forced to kill all the birds in the flock. The State of Iowa bears the cost of the testing done on the poultry to determine if a flock has been struck with avian influenza. Northey said $137,000 was set aside in 2010 for such an outbreak and he’s been reassigning staff in his agency to conduct tests, set up quarantines and surveillance zones.
“We continue to reach out and certainly have been offered up some help,” Northey said, “and I think we’ll use some help from DNR, Homeland Security, likely some local volunteers as well to be able to continue to make these surveillance circles as we need to.”
Northey said there’s a “belief” avian influenza will go away in the heat of the summer, but he’s worried it could “pick up again in the fall” and he told legislators his staff is drafting a spending plan for how to respond. Some countries will no longer accept poultry products from the United States. Northey calls that a trade barrier that’s “not necessary.”