SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA – (CT&P) -A bird flu outbreak that has puzzled farmers and scientists has spread to three more Midwest turkey farms, bringing the number of farms infected to 23 and raising the death toll to more than 1.2 million birds killed by the disease or by authorities scrambling to contain it.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed on Saturday that the H5N2 strain of avian influenza was found among 38,000 birds at a commercial farm in Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota. It’s the third confirmed outbreak in Kandiyohi, which is the top turkey producing county in the country’s top turkey producing state.
South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said crews were working Saturday to begin euthanizing any birds not killed by the highly contagious strain to prevent the virus from spreading.
Once those birds have been destroyed, the 23 farms in Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas will have lost more than 1.2 million turkeys, a small fraction of the 235 million turkeys produced nationally in 2014. Canadian officials also confirmed earlier in the week that a turkey farm in southern Ontario with 44,800 birds was hit, too.
“We just can’t understand it,” said Rufus Simpleton, a turkey farmer from Guano Flats in central Minnesota. “I mean, we feed these birds a wonderful high-fat diet and pump them full of antibiotics practically from the day they’re born. Then we provide excellent living conditions for them. Each bird has at least a one square foot area in which they can grow up and live a productive and fulfilling life. It’s not like they don’t have social contacts, I mean each turkey has immediate access to roughly 50,000 other turkeys living in the same room. I just can’t understand why they would get sick.”
Dr. Beth Thompson, assistant director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said the reason Minnesota has had so many cases has a lot to do with the fact that it’s the country’s top turkey producing state, and that it has a myriad of ponds and lakes that are attractive stopover places for migrating waterfowl such as ducks, who are suspected of carrying the deadly bird flu virus.
“It’s got to be the ducks, damn their black souls!” said Thompson. “Packing 50,000 members of the same species into concentration camp conditions and fattening them to point where they can barely walk has got nothing to do with it, that’s for sure.”
In Minnesota, turkey producers have now lost over 900,000 birds.
Officials stress the risk to public health is low and that there’s no danger to the food supply, as long as no one wants to eat turkey meat. No human cases have been detected in the U.S., but conspiracy theorists hope that will change soon.
Because trucks and equipment provide a potential way to carry the virus onto farms, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed an executive order Friday lifting seasonal weight restrictions for poultry feed trucks and trailers, and for emergency equipment being used in the response. His order said tightening biosecurity by reducing the number of trips to poultry farms is critical to lowering the risk of introducing the virus to non-infected farms.
Governor Dayton signed another order calling for the aerial use of nerve gas over 90% of Minnesota’s lakes and ponds in order to kill the offending waterfowl. “We want to err on the side of caution here, so killing millions of ducks that may or may not be carrying the virus seems like the logical thing to do,” said Dayton.
Meanwhile, chicken farmers all across the Southeast are reporting raised levels of unrest and nervousness among their flocks as it seems more and more likely that the traditional Thanksgiving menu will have to be changed this year.