As a poultry veterinarian committed to assuring the health of turkeys, chickens and egg-laying hens, one of my greatest priorities is to prevent disease from entering our farms. Perhaps there is no greater reminder of the damage avian diseases can have than to revisit the devastating impact highly-pathogenic avian influenza had in Minnesota in the spring of 2015.
In all, more than 100 farms across the state were affected by the outbreak, with a loss of nearly nine million birds from chicken and turkey flocks. Estimates of the economic losses totaled more than $600 million.
Our Congressional leaders have before them an opportunity to protect Minnesota’s animal agriculture community and prevent food animal disease. Provisions included in the proposed 2018 Farm Bill, now under consideration, would make three important contributions to farm animal disease prevention.
First, provisions would establish an Animal Pest, Disease and Disaster Prevention and Response Program that would assure we are well prepared to respond at the time of a food animal disease crisis. Second, the bill would strengthen the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, which is the first line of defense in animal disease prevention and testing. Both the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, as well as the Minnesota Poultry Testing Lab are participants in this network.
Finally, provisions that would fund a U.S. Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank would provide for the rapid vaccination of livestock susceptible to FMD. As one of the most contagious viral diseases affecting livestock, an outbreak of FMD in the U.S. could kill millions of animals and result in billions of dollars in economic losses.
From the perspective of Minnesota’s poultry farming community, of course, disease prevention measures like those recommended in the 2018 Farm Bill are a critical step in assuring continued surveillance against HPAI. It also would improve our ability to respond in time of a disease outbreak, and to assure the continuity of programs and funding within the infrastructure of NAHLN.
As a farm-rich state, Minnesota’s economy enjoys almost $18 billion in annual farm sales. But in the big picture, stability and preservation of the food animals raised in Minnesota and throughout the US is essential for our farmers, for our economies and for the security of our food supply overall.
I urge members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation to support these provisions as they consider and secure passage of the final 2018 Farm Bill.
Jill Nezworski is a poultry veterinarian with Blue House Veterinary LLC.