Bird flu provokes response from states, federal government

Morning In America

FILE – In this Oct. 21, 2015, file photo, cage-free chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm near Waukon, Iowa. The confirmation of bird flu at another Iowa egg-laying farm will force the killing of more than 5 million chickens, officials said Friday, March 18, 2022. Spread of the disease is largely blamed on the droppings or nasal discharge of infected wild birds, such as ducks and geese, which can contaminate dust and soil. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

(NewsNation) —  In a rare move that steps into an area usually covered by the federal government, Minnesota is offering relief funds for its poultry farmers who are being forced to kill off entire flocks because of bird flu.

So far this week, 24 million birds have been killed due to bird flu, 13 million in Iowa alone. Minnesota producers have had to cull a million birds. For egg producers, building back their flocks can take years and federal funding isn’t enough to help them through the gap.

NewsNation’s Kelsey Kernstine spoke with one farmer in New York who’s had to kill off a significant portion of his unique flock, which includes many rare birds. Bob Marsala said, “There’s no vaccine, there’s no treatment, you just sit there and watch them die.”

He lost nearly all his birds from the virus, and he’s still reeling from the loss. “It is going to be a massive hurt for us, it’s really going to hurt.”

Within the first 48 hours, 140 of his birds died on their own, and he had to euthanize another 270. His flock included endangered ducks and birds from all over the world, making him somewhat different from the usual farmer affected by the bird flu.

To make the situation worse, Marsala said he must wait 150 days before he can start raising birds again. “75 percent of our business is gone for 5 months and then beyond that we are going to have to raise all these animals through the winter when they don’t lay eggs and start over next year.”

Fortunately, Marsala has another job that helps keep the bills paid, because the federal aid he’ll receive, called indemnation, doesn’t go quite far enough. “It’s nice that there is something, but it doesn’t cover close to pay anything that we pay to feed the birds during the winter.”

Marsala said there is no other funding, so he’ll have to make do with what he has. When asked if he was hopeful that New York would enact state funding the way Minnesota has, approving $1 million in funding for state poultry farmers, he said he’s not at all hopeful. However, he plans to keep pushing forward and hopes that this outbreak makes the entire industry better stewards of their flocks in future.

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