I haven't been able to write as regularly as I like to and I'm sorry about that. Like all of us, I've been a little busy. In the midst of getting ready for my organization's large poultry convention this month in Saint Paul, a bit of an issue popped up this week that had me completely switching gears.
Highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was confirmed in a flock of commercial turkeys in Minnesota.
You may have seen the headline as part of the "A-List" on Agriculture.com:
This is a big deal. It's the first time this particular "type" of avian influenza has been confirmed in the Mississippi Flyway. It is also the same type that was found earlier this year on the West Coast. (We don't know for sure how the virus got into the turkey flock, which has always been housed indoors in a barn, but an epidemiological study is underway already so that we can get an answer as quickly as possible.)
It's a big deal because avian influenza is endemic in migratory birds and spring hasn't even officially started in Minnesota. This makes all poultry farmers nervous. (Waterfowl, gulls and shorebirds are the natural carriers of avian influenza viruses.)
It's a big deal because at least 40 countries have banned imports of Minnesota turkey, which has a huge impact - not only on our state but on U.S. exports of turkey, as well. Minnesota - ranked #1 for turkey production - raises about 20 percent of all turkey in the U.S.
It's a big deal because this diagnosis is devastating to the individual farmer, his family, and employees on the farm. As other livestock farmers can attest, there is nothing worse than caring for animals day after day and then suddenly watching these same animals die in front of your eyes with nothing you can do about it. And HPAI can be this brutal - these birds had no symptoms and mortality came swiftly.
That's a lot of depressing news, to be sure. However, I am proud to report that Minnesota has had a program in place for decades that monitors for diseases and viruses like avian influenza in poultry. We knew within days that this was happening, so we could act swiftly and according to plan. Our farmers, poultry companies, and our partners like the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture work together and know how to handle issues like this. And we're blessed to have world-renowned avian health experts at the University of Minnesota whom we can rely on for their expertise.
This is also a good reminder that there is a reason our farmers raise their turkeys in barns. Our turkeys are safer and healthier in barns than they would ever be if they spent part or all of their lives outdoors. Is there a chance wild birds will get inside barns and distribute disease? Yes, of course - and this happens. But, raising turkeys indoors greatly reduces this risk.
As I look ahead, I can assure you of several things regarding this avian influenza confirmation:
The risk to the public is very low and there is absolutely no food safety concern.
Any risk of infection is limited to people in direct contact with affected birds.
All affected poultry are prohibited by law from entering the marketplace.
Minnesota's turkey industry will do everything in its power to make sure this remains an isolated case. Elevated biosecurity measure will be in place at all farms and monitoring will continue in full force. Our farmers and turkey companies depend on all of this, and we will make sure the world can eat Minnesota turkey products again.