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Iowa Poultry Producers Prep For A New Wave Of Avian Flu

Harvest Public Media / Peggy Lowe
Workers in Tyvek protective suits remove dead birds from the barns at Sunrise Farms, in Harris, Iowa, last week. Some of the birds from this farm are being composted on an 80-acre plot behind the 24 large barns.

Iowa isn’t requiring new bio security standards at its poultry facilities in the wake of last spring’s catastrophic outbreak of avian flu, but many farms are creating heightened bio-security barriers. Though there is no concrete proof of how bird flu spread so far and so rapidly, it’s widely believed humans played a large role in spreading the disease across the Midwest. 

"Facilities now maybe are shower-in-shower-out facilities," says Secretary Bill Northey, who heads Iowa's Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. "They've added automatic truck washes so every vehicle coming onto the farm is getting washed...In many cases they have spent millions of dollars making sure they keep disease out of the farm."

Northey says because every farm is different, it doesn’t make sense to create new rules. He believes that the financial incentives of preventing future outbreaks of avian flu are enough to inspire poultry producers to heightened bio security measures. 

In addition to poultry producers, Iowa's beef and pork industries are also planning for worst-case scenarios in case a disease hits their livestock and wreaks havoc similar to what poultry producers encountered last year.

For example, one of the biggest problems encountered was how to safely handle and dispose of the millions of disease-ridden poultry carcasses. Disposing of larger animals might prove an even greater challenge.

"How would we set up quarantines? Where would we stop movement? Where would we dispose of animals that were sick or had to be put down to prevent disease from moving?" says Northey. "Those folks are having a lot of conversations on what the plans need to be." 

This year's bird flu outbreak is the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. Nationwide, more than 48 million poultry died as a result of avian flu, 31 million of those birds were in Iowa.