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Bird Flu and Mississippi: None Yet, But Cochran Questions USDA

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The avian, or bird flu, is the main reason you’re paying so much for eggs. The midwest had to get rid of millions of chickens because of the disease. It hasn’t made it to Mississippi yet, but Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) had some questions for the Dept. of Agriculture in DC last week.

Cochran is a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which conducted a hearing titled, “Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza:  The Impact on the U.S. Poultry Sector and Protecting U.S. Poultry Flocks.”  Mississippi ranks 5th in U.S. broiler production, with more than 738 million broilers valued at $2.87 billion produced in 2014.

“The recent advance of avian flu raises many long-term questions about its effects on the American poultry industry, and how best to address the threat to producers, trade and our economy,” Cochran said.

At the Tuesday afternoon hearing, Cochran participated in the committee’s examination of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) actions to control the spread of the most recent strain of Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).  Cochran asked witnesses to discuss how the use of an HPAI vaccine would affect exports from poultry-producing states like Mississippi.

“I appreciate that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is carefully weighing the pros and cons of using vaccines to fight this disease, especially the prospect of foreign nations suspending poultry shipments from the United States if vaccinations take place,” Cochran said.

Mississippi poultry exports, both frozen and fresh, totaled $233 million in 2014, a decline from $295 million the previous year, according to the Census Bureau.

According to the APHIS, 223 avian flu detections affecting more than 48 million birds have been identified in the United States since December 2014, with Minnesota and Iowa being the hardest hit.  The latest case was reported in Iowa on June 17, 2015.  Other states currently affected include Arkansas, California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.

Existing cases are located within the Mississippi, Central and Pacific flyways or migratory bird paths, and affect wild birds, backyard and commercial poultry flocks.  The outbreak of HPAI does not pose food safety or public health risks, according to government authorities.

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