Via The Des Moines Register: Iowa egg, poultry groups blast USDA handling of bird flu. Excerpt:
Egg and poultry groups Tuesday criticized the Agriculture Department’s handling of the worst avian flu outbreak in U.S. history, with one Iowa turkey producer charging the response allowed the deadly virus to spread.
At a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing about the bird flu outbreak that has devastated producers in Iowa and 14 other states, Brad Moline, a third-generation turkey farmer from Manson, told lawmakers that state and federal officials were slow to sit down with poultry groups to outline how they planned to combat the disease and what would be required of the industry.
Moline, testifying on behalf of the National Turkey Federation, said when the fast-moving virus was spreading in Minnesota, state and federal officials failed to move quickly enough in Iowa. Instead, they sent mixed messages that left producers uncertain of what to do. He said the USDA should have put more department officials and better-trained contractors in the field to meet with producers to cut down on communication errors.
“We firmly believe unclear communication contributed to the spread of this disease,” said Moline, whose own operation has depopulated 56,000 turkeys and expects two-thirds of its annual income to be wiped out by the virus. “Initially, federal and state governments missed a critical opportunity to sit down with the industry to develop a defined game plan. This would have avoided the mass confusion that we experienced in Iowa.”
Jim Dean, chairman of United Egg Producers and an egg farmer from Sioux Center whose operation was hit by the disease in April, said the industry was largely supportive of USDA’s response to the outbreak even if was not always in agreement.
“In a situation like this, no response is ever perfect,” Dean said. “Sometimes we have had disagreements with (USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) or frustrations with various aspects of their operations.”
Dean and Moline told reporters after the hearing that USDA has made noticeable improvements in its ability to react and communicate to producers. “I think this was such a devastating disease for everybody that a lot of people were caught off guard and the systems weren’t in place to deal with the extreme volume of cases that were happening so quickly,” Dean said.
The bird flu epidemic has highlighted a number of shortcomings including the time it takes for researchers to create a vaccine to adequately protect uninfected birds from attracting the virus and backlogs in depopulating and disposing of birds — a problem that was especially prevalent in Iowa. Some local producers reported having thousands of dead chickens sitting on their farm for weeks, attracting flies and smelling worse each day.
Warmer weather and longer days have slowed the spread of the virus, but not before it forced the destruction of more than 48 million chickens, turkeys and ducks, cost the industry billions of dollars and drove up the price of eggs and egg products.