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Iowa lifts bird flu quarantine restrictions at three commercial poultry sites

Amy Mayer
IPR file
Iowa hasn't seen a new case of bird flu since May 2. With more than 13 million birds dead, Iowa is the hardest hit state in this year's bird flu outbreak.

State agriculture officials say they’ve lifted quarantine restrictions for three commercial poultry sites that were infected by bird flu, allowing producers at those sites to soon have birds again.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship this week released a commercial pullet site in Franklin County, a commercial turkey site in Hamilton County and a site of commercial breeding chickens in Humboldt County from quarantine.

Restrictions had barred poultry and poultry products from being moved on or off an infected farm. The state lifted restrictions at the three sites after they were “cleared” from the viral disease, the department said.

“This is a notable step forward in our state’s collaborative response to avian influenza, but our work is not done,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig in a statement. “ … Moving forward, the Iowa Department of Agriculture, along with USDA, producers and other industry stakeholders will continue efforts to effectively manage this outbreak.”

It’s the start of recovery for those three sites, said Gretta Irwin, the executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.

“This shows that the farms have completed their sampling and the infected premises no longer have the virus on the farms,” Irwin said. “It is a step in the right direction to get back to full production.”

Producers whose farms are infected by bird flu have to meet certain criteria before they can be approved to restock their flocks, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says producers have to clean and disinfect their barns and equipment to eliminate the virus.

Once producers clean and disinfect, they can’t have any new birds for at least two weeks. The USDA tests the site to confirm the virus has been eradicated.

"Because of changes in international standards for avian influenza response that were adopted in 2021 by many countries, including the United States, we can release control areas and quarantines a week sooner (14 days vs 21 days) than we could in 2015," wrote a spokesperson for the USDA APHIS in an email to IPR.

The Franklin County site had a flock of 250,000 pullet chickens affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza. The Humboldt County site had a flock of nearly 15,000 breeding chickens affected by the highly contagious viral disease.

Two Hamilton County turkey sites were affected by bird flu in late March and early April. Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture, confirmed the site released from quarantine had a flock of 28,000 turkeys.

All of the birds in those flocks had to be killed to prevent the virus from spreading to other farms, leaving those producers with no poultry to raise for weeks to nearly two months.

Iowa has confirmed 19 cases of bird flu since March 1, and hasn’t seen a new case since May 2. The state is the top egg producer in the country with some 56 million laying hens. The state ranks seventh in the nation for turkey production. Iowa has been the hardest hit in this year’s bird flu outbreak. More than 13 million commercial and backyard birds have been killed by the virus or culled to stop it from spreading.

Still, that number is less than half the number of birds that died in the bird flu outbreak seven years ago in Iowa. More than 32 million birds in the state were impacted in 2015.

Irwin said a lot of lessons on biosecurity on the farm were learned from the bird flu outbreak of 2015, “and that shows in the reduced number of cases,” she said.

“Viruses are something that we as humans cannot control, but we can try to control our environments that our birds are in,” Irwin said. “That’s what we'll continue to do to keep our birds healthy.”

Biosecurity, such as washing and disinfecting shoes, trucks and farming equipment, is the measures producers take to keep diseases off of their farm.

“We have plans. The farmers are prepared …” Irwin said, “and we keep discussing more and more ways we can keep those wild birds separated from our turkeys.”

Wild birds such as ducks and geese have been on their migration north and have been blamed for the current outbreak and its spread across the U.S. They can carry the virus and shed it through their saliva or excrement. In an interview with IPR last month, Naig said there isn’t farm-to-farm spread of the virus in Iowa this year like there was in 2015.

The Franklin, Hamilton and Humboldt County sites are the first to be released from quarantine, Carson said, but more will follow as they meet the release requirements.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. on 5/20/22 to include more information from the USDA APHIS about bird flu recovery.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.