Iowa egg and poultry producers are preparing for a possible return of avian influenza this fall as migrating wild waterfowl are again flying over.
The bird flu wiped out 34 million chickens and turkeys on 77 Iowa farms this spring. Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry and Egg Association, says experts’ predictions about the fall migration are varied.
“Some scientists would argue that birds that travel north in the spring might linger more as they move north, and in the fall, birds really just want to get moving south,” Olson says. “We’re optimistic that will be helpful.”
The U.S.D.A. is preparing to handle an outbreak on more than 500 farms this fall, which is twice the scale of the spring outbreak. “The U.S.D.A. is taking this seriously,” Olson says. “Clearly, as they’ve modeled out this, it’s important for them to plan resources to react to what they’re calling a ‘worst case’ scenario. It could also be the case that we’ll have very few, if any, infections this fall. The disease is very unpredictable.”
Last month, Ames-based Harris Vaccines received conditional federal approval for its avian influenza vaccine, which is reported to be up to 95 percent effective.
The U.S.D.A. has hired around 200 of a planned 350 additional veterinarians, animal health technicians and other workers should a bird flu emergency occur. Olson says those are very positive moves.
“While there hasn’t been a decision to utilize vaccine, those types of planning steps need to happen in advance of that need,” he says. “The U.S.D.A. is trying to be proactive, coupled with the good work of our farmers, we’re in the best position possible, but, make no mistake about it, our industry is on pins and needles.”
If there’s another avian influenza outbreak this fall on the scale of last spring, Olson says it would be devastating to the industry.
(Reporting by Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)