Source: Omaha World-Herald

By Joe Morton

Bird flu has taken a serious toll on the Iowa poultry sector, two producers from the state testified Tuesday.

“I am living the avian influenza nightmare,” turkey farmer Brad Moline of Manson told the Senate Agriculture Committee.

His family’s Moline Farms has already been forced to get rid of 56,000 turkeys, completely emptying its 12 growing barns.

Two-thirds of the farm’s annual income has been wiped out, leaving it to rely on indemnity payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he testified.

Nationally, the disease has been confirmed in 21 states. Nine of those states, including Nebraska and Iowa, had bird flu identified in commercial operations. That has resulted in the destruction of 7.5 million turkeys and 42 million chickens, or 3 percent of the annual U.S. turkey production and about 10 percent of the nation’s egg-laying chicken population.

John Clifford, deputy administrator of veterinary services for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, noted in his testimony Tuesday that new detections of the disease in Iowa and other states have slowed to a trickle.

“These are bright spots in the largest animal health emergency in our country’s history,” Clifford said.

Tuesday’s hearing was held at the urging of Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Iowa Republicans, to look at the origin of the outbreak and the government’s response to it.

James Dean is an egg farmer from Sioux Center, Iowa, and chairman of a trade organization that represents about 90 percent of egg producers in the country.

While witnesses and senators talked about beefing up biosecurity measures, Dean noted that the largest egg farm affected by the disease in Iowa had received a perfect score just two months earlier on a USDA biosecurity audit.

Asked about ideas for responding to future outbreaks, Dean said Congress should look at creating a program similar to crop insurance, which kicks in with payments to farmers when drought destroys a corn crop.

Producers have complained that the USDA response was slow at times. They say that the agency used contractors who were often either poorly trained or ill-informed and that miscommunication and complicated paperwork helped exacerbate the outbreak.

Clifford said the agency is taking steps to improve communication with affected producers in the future.

Ernst and Grassley said they hope the hearing highlighted areas for improvement that will make the federal response to the next outbreak more effective.

“This has had a horrible, horrible impact on Iowans,” Ernst said.

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