Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Iowa chicken and turkey producers who lost millions of birds to avian influenza earlier this year are meeting today with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley to discuss how best to proceed.

Some Iowa farms are restocking their populations now, though there’s the threat of new bird flu outbreaks this fall as migrating wild waterfowl head south. Grassley says he wants everyone prepared.

Grassley says, “There’s much that can be learned from experience, supply chain impacts from the sudden loss of tens of millions of birds have occurred upstream to feed suppliers and downstream to food companies and consumers.” Iowa’s egg, chicken and turkey industries lost hundreds of jobs and the state’s economy took a $1.2 billion hit from bird flu, according to a study from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Some 34 million turkeys and chickens died or were euthanized in Iowa, by far the largest losses of any state. Grassley notes, some producers were critical of the U.S.D.A.’s response. “Now, before the very real possibility of another outbreak, it’s important to have a frank discussion with producers who had boots on the ground about the response of the federal government and if anything more can be done by the Department of Agriculture or even those of us in Congress,” Grassley says.

U.S.D.A. officials have announced plans to stockpile bird flu vaccine, with the goal of delivering those vaccines within 24 hours to any poultry producers near an infected flock. Some fear, as Grassley acknowledges, that’s like shutting the barn door after the horse has already run off. “I have raised the question and haven’t had an answer yet, why stockpile? Why not vaccinate?” Grassley says. “I don’t have an answer for you but it seems to me, if you have a stockpile and you have an outbreak, what good does it do? The easiest way to vaccinate is before the chickens are put in the cages.”

This afternoon’s meeting between Grassley and producers will be held in Storm Lake.