State officials say good preparation limiting impact of avian flu

Man speaks at mic with flag
Commissioner Thom Peterson of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture addresses reporters during a press conference in Willmar, Minn. on Tuesday.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith say they expect the current avian flu outbreak to last for another four to six weeks. This is the anticipated duration of the spring waterfowl migration, which is proving to be the major spreader of avian flu this year.

While there were no new cases reported Tuesday, avian flu has killed close to two million turkeys and chickens in Minnesota this year. The officials said they want to make sure that affected poultry producers get the mental health support they may need.

After meeting with animal health staff at an interagency emergency operations center in Willmar, the elected officials said the outbreak isn’t as severe as it was during the 2015 avian flu epidemic. While there have been 40 cases of avian flu discovered in Minnesota, that’s actually fewer than was anticipated.

Gov. Walz the implementation of strict biosecurity measures at poultry production facilities since 2015 have been effective in stemming the disease. 

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“The spread is much more through wild birds and they described it as a sort of popcorn type of effect, that it will pop up in different parts,” he said. “That's different from when we were seeing it spreading from facility to facility because of the biosecurity measures that were put in place last time. So that has slowed the spread but not stopped it.” 

Preparation key

The Minnesota Legislature just approved one million dollars to be used to in response to the avian flu outbreak. Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Peterson said the state money is being allocated to an emergency ag account, which will go toward equipment, staffing, and the redeployment of employees who are working overtime. 

On the federal level, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said $2.3 million in grants were provided to Minnesota throughout the year under the Animal Disease and Disaster Prevention, Surveillance and Animal Rapid Response Act of 2018, to support the planning effort.

Klobuchar says poultry producers will also be consulted as Congress considers the new farm bill.  

Mental health support

Walz said the state hopes to make whole any producers who lose their flock as a result of avian flu. He said there will be mental health support too.

Ag Commissioner Peterson said the state is paying for two mental health counselors and a 24-hour hotline for farmers to call. Producers can text and email for support too.  Peterson says that the state is really focused on getting their case managers to ask farmers multiple times to make sure they’re doing ok.  

Sen. Smith says that it’s important for poultry farmers to reach out for help if they’re struggling and that work is being done at the federal level to also improve access to rural mental health care.