Bird flu vaccine nearing, but not in time for possible fall recurrence

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The plight of Minnesota's embattled turkey industry was front and center before the powerful congressional agricultural subcommittee on Thursday.

The Star Tribune reports some of the nation’s top avian flu experts briefed lawmakers including Minnesota U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the highest-ranking Democrat on the agriculture committee. He told the group Minnesota growers are still suffering from the avian flu outbreak.

“My state was ground zero for this,” he said.

The committee was told federal officials are within a week of knowing whether they have identified a vaccine that could prevent avian flu in turkeys.

The Associated Press reported a vaccine strain tested 100 percent effective in protecting chickens from bird flu.

The turkey vaccine wouldn’t be available until spring however – not in time to help if bird flu would resurface this fall.

Avian influenza killed 9 million Minnesota turkeys and hens, wiping out flocks at 108 Minnesota farms; 43 turkey growers have signed “restocking” agreements with state regulators, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

Bird flu's spread, effect on trade

Avian flu is believed to be transmitted by wild birds who don’t get sick from the virus, but spread it with their droppings. The Insurance Journal reports U.S Agriculture Secretary Vilsack indicated the USDA is preparing for recurrence of the virus and plans to ask Congress to consider a poultry disaster program similar to one that exists for livestock producers.

Time magazine noted not all poultry producers are in agreement on how to fight another outbreak. Turkey producers tend to favor vaccinations, since the bird's immune system appears more vulnerable to viruses.

But egg producers and farmers who raise chickens produced for meat "often resist vaccination programs because of the possible impact on export markets," according to the magazine.

Many countries have a strict policy of refusing to accept meat from nations using a vaccine. James Summer, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, told the AP that during the current outbreak, 10 trade partners banned poultry imports from the entire U.S.

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