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Minnesota congressman expects bird flu vaccine for turkeys soon

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. -- Congressman Collin Peterson is expecting an announcement this week that a trial vaccine is as effective against avian influenza in turkeys as earlier tests have shown it to be for chickens.

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REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. -- Congressman Collin Peterson is expecting an announcement this week that a trial vaccine is as effective against avian influenza in turkeys as earlier tests have shown it to be for chickens.

If the vaccine proves to be nearly 100 percent effective, producers in the hard hit states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota may be authorized to use it on a limited basis as early as this fall, "if we need to,'' Peterson told an audience Wednesday at Farmfest 2015 at the Gilfillan Estate south of Redwood Falls.

"I am pushing to get that vaccine available to our producers,'' said Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota’s 1st District. He said it would only be used if avian influenza returns to the region this autumn. At this point no one knows whether it will return. We do not yet fully understand how it is being transmitted, he explained.

Peterson said he is expecting Dr. David Swain, USDA Agriculture Research Services Southeast Poultry Laboratory, to announce the vaccine's efficacy. He also said that Dr. John Clifford, chief veterinarian for the United States Department of Animal and Plant Health Inspections, is "on board'' with making the vaccine available for commercial turkey producers.

The Congressman was among those who worked to convince the veterinarian to reverse his earlier position on use of a vaccine.

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Its development is an important milestone in the response to the avian influenza crisis, but Peterson emphasized that much work remains. The next step in the process will be to identify two or more companies to produce it in quantities needed for commercial sale. It will also need to be stockpiled in time to meet the expected demand should avian influenza return this autumn.

The other challenge will be to convince U.S. trading partners to allow its use in a limited area. Peterson is proposing that producers in the hardest hit states be allowed to use the vaccine with the pledge by the U.S. that none of the turkey produced where the vaccine is used will be exported. Speaking after the program, Peterson said that major turkey processors in the area, Hormel among them, are supportive of this proposal.

The Congressman emphasized that the vaccine is not going to bring about the end of the avian influenza crisis overnight. It will take time to get it into the population of birds being raised.

There is also opposition to its use from the broiler industry, which fears its use will hurt its exports.

Workers with the Minnesota and federal agencies responding to the crisis are also visiting commercial turkey farms with the goal of helping producers ramp up bio-security measures, the Congressman said.

While the response to the avian influenza crisis was not without its glitches, Peterson said he gives good marks overall to the state and federal agencies and industry for their handling of it to date.

He said the indemnification program that compensates producers for birds euthanized once the disease was identified in a flock worked as intended. However, he said the major "hole in the system'' is the two and three months, sometimes longer period during which producers are unable to raise birds. He hopes Congress will look at a business interruption insurance program or something along these lines to help producers with the economic blow inflicted.

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