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Bird flu is likely to return this fall, but state says it's prepared

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Poultry producers and state officials in Minnesota are anxiously looking toward the fall, wondering whether the avian flu will make a comeback.

The fast-spreading virus hit the state's turkey producers especially hard in the spring, and officials say now that temperatures are beginning to cool off the flu will likely return. The virus typically dies off in warmer weather.

But state officials told lawmakers Tuesday they're better prepared for the onset of the disease this fall than they were in the spring, according to the Star Tribune.

Dr. Bill Hartmann of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health testified during a hearing with two legislative committees that his agency has taken several steps in recent weeks to get ready for the bird flu. The most important, he said, is to try to figure out ways to keep the virus from getting into farms in the first place, MPR News reports.

To that end, he said state officials are doing bio-security reviews of turkey and chicken farms.

Some poultry producers told lawmakers about their experiences with the virus, which killed 9 million birds on 110 farms in the state from March to June.

One farmer said a USDA crew handled the euthanization of her 415,000 chickens very poorly, and she's still waiting for funding to help with the cleanup costs, which she said are more than $250,000, according to MPR News.

The Legislature approved $7.4 million in the last session for state agencies to respond to the avian flu, which brought significant losses to the state's agriculture sector.

State officials estimated in July that the bird flu had cost the state's poultry producers $650 million.

The loss of birds led to layoffs in the processing industry, including more than 200 at the Jennie-O turkey plant in Faribault. Some of those employees were called back to work late in the summer.

Another domino in the economic chain reaction was the bird flu’s impact on egg prices. U.S. News reports Minnesota lost one-third of its egg-laying hens and Iowa lost 40 percent.

The shortage had a limited effect on the cost of eggs at the a grocery store. But for wholesale bakers, it was another story. Those operations usually purchase liquified eggs by the bucket and their prices nearly tripled for a time.

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