H5N2 suspected on 5 more Iowa, Minnesota farms

Officials in Iowa and Minnesota today reported five more likely outbreaks of H5N2 avian flu, while a Minnesota turkey company announced H5N2-related layoffs and federal officials freed up $330 million for response efforts.

The outbreaks in Iowa involve two turkey farms and a chicken laying operation of 60,000 hens, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) said today. Initial tests showed that birds on all three operations tested positive for the H5 strain of avian flu, and confirmatory tests from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa, are pending.

Both turkey farms are in Buena Vista County in northwestern Iowa. An IDALS news release said both farms experienced increased deaths in turkeys but did not specify the size of either flock. The county has now had 10 outbreaks.

The commercial laying operation is in Sioux County, which also lies in northwestern Iowa but borders South Dakota. The flock of an estimated 60,000 chickens also experienced increased mortality, the IDALS release said.

The agency said 20,096,846 poultry in 27 outbreaks in 11 counties have now been affected in Iowa. The vast majority of the birds—19,310,471—have been egg-laying chickens.

Two Minnesota outbreaks

In Minnesota, two commercial farms in Kandiyohi County in the west-central part of the state are "presumptive positive" for highly pathogenic avian flu (HPAI), likely H5N2, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) said in a press release today.

Kandiyohi, the state's leading turkey-producing county, now has had 31 HPAI outbreaks, by far the most in the state. The DPS press release did not specify the size of either turkey farm.

Minnesota has reported 82 affected farms in 21 counties to date. The outbreaks have affected 5,487,232 poultry, not including several flocks for which numbers are pending. About 3.9 million were turkeys, and 1.6 million were laying chickens.

The Minnesota outbreaks have required response from 210 federal and state employees, the DPS said, 129 of them from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Birds on 73 of the affected farms have been euthanized, and 704 backyard flocks falling within the control areas of the affected farms have been tested.

Outbreak-related layoffs

Also today, Hormel's Jennie-O Turkey Store announced it will temporarily lay off 233 workers at its Faribault, Minn., processing plant because of avian flu–related turkey supply shortages, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported today.

The company said it will move from two processing shifts to one for the "foreseeable future," starting May 26. It called the layoffs temporary until poultry numbers return to normal levels.

The Faribault plant employs about 650 people. Jennie-O is the nation's second-largest turkey producer, behind Butterball. Minnesota is the nation's top turkey-producing state. In 2013, US turkey growers produced about 240 million birds, according to the National Turkey Federation.

Hormel is based in Austin, Minn.

Feds clear $330 million for response

At the federal level, meanwhile, the US government approved the use of $330 million in new emergency funds to help contain the avian flu outbreak, which is the worst in US history, Reuters reported today.

The Office of Management and Budget granted USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack's request for the emergency funds, USDA sources told Reuters. Initially, the USDA had earmarked $84.5 million to compensate farmers and for other outbreak-related expenses.

See also:

May 5 IDALS news release

May 5 Minnesota DPS press release

May 5 Star Tribune story

May 5 Reuters article

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