DES MOINES — A new outbreak of avian influenza in Indiana drives home the need for Iowa to take proactive steps to be able to deal quickly and appropriately with future animal health emergencies after last year’s deadly bird flue losses, state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said.

Northey made a pitch to the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday for a $500,000 state appropriation to aid in preparing for and potentially responding to a foreign animal disease outbreak, such as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.

The requested funds — which Gov. Terry Branstad did not include in his $7.412 billion fiscal 2017 state budget proposal — would be used to increase the capacity of the animal industry bureau and provide resources to better equip and prepare for future responses, he noted.

Northey said Iowa was among the states hit hard by an avian flu outbreak that federal officials consider to be the worst animal health emergency in U.S. history. Since animal agriculture plays a critical economic role in Iowa, Northey said the requested funds would help his agency prepare for another animal disease situation.

"If anything Indiana shows us that it can happen again. We hope that it doesn't, but we have to be prepared," he noted.

In Iowa, there were a total of 77 premises in 17 counties and 31.5 million birds were affected with the disease last year — including 35 commercial turkey flocks, 22 commercial egg production flocks, 13 pullet flocks, one chicken breeding flock, one mail-order hatchery, and six backyard flocks.

Gretta Irwin of the Iowa Turkey Federation said Iowa's affected turkey farms have been repopulated and Randy Olson, an official with the Iowa Egg Council and the Iowa Poultry Association, told committee members the affected Iowa egg-laying operations would be repopulated by mid-2017.

"We're going to be steadily ramping up through 2016," Olson said.

Irwin and Olson said a federal indemnification fund helped affected Iowa producers and businesses cover about 80 percent or more of their disposal, cleanup and disinfection costs, while Northey said the federal indemnification payout for Iowa’s bird flu outbreak was "north of $500 million."

No new cases of bird flu have been reported in Iowa since last June and the final quarantine order was lifted on Dec. 1. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship also recently lifted an cancelling all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, livestock auction markets, swap meets, exotic sales and other gatherings of birds due to avian influenza.

Comments: 515-243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com.

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