Senator proposes $2M for Avian Flu response

Sen. Ryan Aument is pictured making a statement Tuesday on his website.

Sen. Ryan Aument wants to spend $2 million for an emergency supplemental funding plan for the state’s avian flu response.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed in late April the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial layer chicken flock in Lancaster County, Pa. Nearly 3.5 million chickens in Lancaster County were destroyed because of the HPAI outbreak.

=Avian flu was also found in some of the more than 100 black vultures found dead along the Susquehanna River just south of the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Aument said the state provided money in 2016 during an avian flu outbreak to support research and development efforts and to help county cooperative extensions work with farmers to prevent outbreaks and respond if there was an outbreak.

“In the near future I will be introducing a bill to provide an additional $2 million for the detection, response, and prevention of avian flu,” Aument wrote in his legislative memorandum. “Agriculture plays a key role in Pennsylvania’s economy and there is a critical need to be adequately prepared to address potential outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), as well as other threats.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the recent HPAI detections do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States. As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees is recommended as a general food safety precaution.

The state Department of Agriculture has also temporarily banned poultry and egg exhibitions at county and local fairs due to the outbreak. The order will last until mid-June or until the department rescinds the order.

“Pennsylvania’s agricultural fairs are important educational events for our youth,” Russell Redding, state agriculture secretary, said in April. “But the risk to our poultry farmers and our economy outweighs the benefit of displaying poultry at fairs when avian influenza is an imminent threat. The very real experience of weighing risks against benefits is also a tremendously important part of an agricultural education.”

According to the Associated Press, the current outbreak of the highly contagious virus has led to the culling of about 37 million chickens and turkeys in U.S. farms since February, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed 956 cases of bird flu in wild birds, including at least 54 bald eagles. But the actual number is likely significantly higher because not every wild bird that dies is tested and the federal tally doesn’t include cases recorded by wildlife rehabilitation centers.

The latest reported toll is nearly 10 times higher than the 99 confirmed cases in wild birds during the last bird flu outbreak in 2015. This time, the virus has been detected in birds in 34 states, indicating it is far more widespread than seven years ago.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center also collects data from wildlife officials on suspected and confirmed bird flu deaths. It lists 8,536 recent wild bird deaths from avian influenza.

“Pennsylvania must be prepared to act and adapt quickly in order to protect our poultry flocks, farmers and families and this additional funding will go a long way to limiting the impact of avian flu on our farms and food supply,” Aument wrote.


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