Senate committee, USDA, poultry producers meet to discuss deadly U.S. avian flu outbreak

A Senate committee met with a panel of USDA officials and poultry industry professionals earlier this week to discuss the worst outbreak in U.S. history of a deadly avian influenza that resulted in the deaths of about 48 million birds.

David Swayne of the USDA's National Poultry Research Center

The spread of the virus, which began last year and hit hard at turkey-, chicken- and egg-producing states like Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, reached a total of 15 states. Dr. David Swayne, an official with the USDA, said at the meeting there have been no new cases reported in the past three weeks, KTIV in Sioux City, IA, reported.

Although there isn't an approved vaccine to battle the H5N2 virus, agriculture officials said they hope to have one in place as a precautionary measure by this fall. There is concern that as temperatures cool in autumn, the virus may resurge.

Amid praise for government action during the outbreak, there was some criticism over a lack of communication between producers and contractors hired to help dispose of flocks that had to be culled because of the virus.

"Having a clear road map explained by government officials, not contractors, is a must," Brad Moline, of the National Turkey Federation, said. "We understand contractors play an important role in eradication but they should have been better trained."

Moline, who said some contractors weren't efficient at cleaning and depopulating flocks, added that the government should allow a more streamlined system that lets producers handle the depopulation themselves, which would mean they could keep employees on their payroll. In Minnesota, which declared a state of emergency in late April, Hormel Foods ($HRL) was forced to temporarily lay off 233 workers at one of its turkey production plants.

Since the spread of the virus began, Mexico, Canada and the European Union banned or restricted poultry imports from states like Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, California, Washington and Oregon. Both China and South Korea imposed bans on U.S. poultry imports.

- check out the KTIV story