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$1 million grant helps Iowa State pursue biosecurity in wake of 2015 bird flu

'They don't want it to get out of control again'

(WIRE FILE PHOTO) A sign warning of a Biosecure Area at a chicken farm near Sioux Center, Iowa May 13, 2015. (REUTERS/Tom Polansek)

The 2015 bird flu outbreak was this country’s biggest-ever animal health emergency, and Iowa — a top egg producer and major turkey supplier — took the brunt.

That can’t happen again, as far as industry experts are concerned, and Iowa State University in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking steps to see it doesn’t.

ISU’s Center for Food Security and Public Health announced Wednesday it received a $1 million grant for a cooperative agreement to enhance preparedness for future outbreaks.

The grant continues ISU’s work with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which began in 2008 and has resulted in revised biosecurity practices and policies, according to James Roth, a veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine professor at ISU.

The continued collaboration will disseminate new biosecurity standards and principles in two languages, improve training and education and update the USDA’s disease response plans.

Biosecurity principles include buffers and separation around and within poultry houses and “manure and litter management.” And industry interests recently voted to require biosecurity audits as part of a National Poultry Improvement Plan that has been in place for decades, according to Roth.

“The industry, after they went through this experience, wants all of the large indoor producers … to implement the biosecurity all the time,” Roth said. “They’re serious about it. They don’t want it to get out of control again.”

Because Iowa holds the title of top egg producer in the United States — boasting 53.4 million hens to second place Indiana’s 32 million, according to an egg industry report — the 2015 outbreak decimated the state’s flocks.

A total 77 sites — 71 of which were commercial turkey and egg production flocks — tested positive for the virus between April and June of that year. More than 31.5 million birds were affected in Iowa — or 66 percent of the 48 million birds affected nationally.

The outbreak had an estimated impact of $1.2 billion on Iowa’s economy. But, Roth said, it could have been worse. Tactics ISU had collaborated on before 2015 shortened its life span to three months.

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