Poultry producers impacted by the outbreak of H5N2 Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu - or "bird flu" - should be provided with emergency assistance, leadership of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture told the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday.
Agriculture Committee Chairmen Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Ranking Members Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., made the request in an open letter also copied to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In the letter, leaders said they were writing to express "extreme concern" about the HPAI outbreak, which now has affected about 8 million birds on 100 farms in 12 states.
The leaders suggested USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack be approved to use emergency funding under the Commodity Credit Corporation to help mitigate the spread of HPAI and limit the economic damages to poultry growers.
Such funds are specifically intended by Congress for use in emergency situations such as this HPAI outbreak, the leaders noted.
USDA recently released CCC funds for indemnity payments to farmers with infected flocks, for management of depopulated flocks and for necessary sanitation efforts at infected farms, the letter said. USDA also is expected to request additional CCC funds be issued in the coming weeks to combat the virus as it continues to spread.
"Despite extreme precautions taken by farmers to protect the health of their flocks and the best scientific minds in the country working to halt the spread of HPAI, this virus continues to infect farms across the country and requires significant resources to curtail its effects," the Congress members wrote.
Scope of bird flu cases >>
HPAI-affected birds in 12 states
The situation has become increasingly important as migratory birds fly north through flyways, feeding at bodies of water at close proximity to poultry farms. In Minnesota, which has been hit the hardest by HPAI infections, the leaders said, nearly all of the 52 impacted farms have been located within a few hundred yards of a lake.
Though warmer temperatures will help suppress the virulence of the virus, migration continues through the spring and fall, further spreading the virus.
The consistently hot temperatures necessary to suppress the virus are not expected in the northern Midwest until later in the summer, the letter said, and there is no vaccine for H5N2 currently available.
"Farmers are already facing severe economic hardship due to bird mortality, disruption in their production cycles, and loss of export markets for unscientific reasons," the letter said. "We need to ensure the indemnification process and cleanup of infected farms occurs immediately to avoid additional disruption in rural America.
According to the CDC, HPAI is considered a "low risk" to humans, and properly cooked or prepared poultry products are safe to eat.
Source: House, Senate Ag Committees