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H5N1 Impacting Poultry, Dairy Industries Differently

The H5N1 virus continues to be a story in the dairy industry and the poultry industry it originated from. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the virus has differing effects on each industry.

“On the poultry side, we’re dealing with a virus that kills, so it’s relatively simple. You depopulate the virus-stricken flock, you disinfect the facility, you wait a bit, and then the farmer gets back in business. That is not the case with reference to dairy. The good news is that cows survive. They get sick for a period of time, a short period of time, and they recover. Maybe their production is impacted a bit, but for all intents and purposes, they get back to normal, and that’s a good thing.”

He says it’s important for the public to know that drinking milk is safe.

“We know that the milk that they produce, ultimately, is safe because of pasteurization. We know the beef produced from those cows at some point in time is also safe, based on our testing, and we know there is very little, at this point in time, low risk to people. Having said that, it’s very disruptive, obviously, to dairy herds that have been hit by this. The good news is that we’re learning more about what to do. We know now that it’s not just the movement of cows that can cause the spread of this. We know that it’s the movement of people that come and go on a farm. It’s the movement of vehicles that come and go on a farm. It’s the movement of equipment that comes and goes on a farm, to which the virus attaches and moves itself into a different operation and causes havoc there.”

Vilsack says the agency has taken steps to control the spread of the virus.

“So, the key, I think, first and foremost, was for us to restrict movement, to make sure that sick cows weren’t going across state lines causing further problems. And then, secondly, it was to begin placing a strong emphasis on biosecurity, making sure that those people, those trucks, those vehicles, that equipment, don’t come on the farm or leave the farm with virus.”

Biosecurity plans take time and money to develop. USDA is helping farmers with the costs of implementing a plan to protect their herds.

“We’ve provided a series of financial payments to help farmers develop a plan of enhanced biosecurity and implement that plan to do consistent and ongoing testing, providing help and assistance with the veterinarian costs that are associated with sick cows. We’re making sure that as samples are taken, farmers are not incurring additional expenses for the mailing of those samples. We’re making sure that, as they dispose of milk, they do so in a safe way. If there are costs associated with that, we want to be in a position to help.”