Experts assess Avian flu threat

State, federal leaders discuss response for the poultry industry.
Friday, January 6, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:48 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said Thursday that Americans should pay heed to the threat of Avian flu, but should not fear the virus, which has infected poultry and even some humans in Asia.

During a roundtable discussion at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, Johanns said that a $91.4 million emergency spending package, passed by Congress last month, will increase Avian flu surveillance and strengthen response capabilities in the U.S., as well as inhibit the spread of the disease from other countries.

“We want to be ready for whatever may come our way,” Johanns said.

Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., who was a strong supporter of the emergency funding, said the preventive measures are important to the Missouri poultry industry. The 2002 Census of Agriculture recorded Missouri raised about 47.6 million chickens and turkeys.

“We have gotten out front on this issue, particularly on the animal health side,” Talent said.

“We’ve had good results so far because we have a good underlying animal health safety system.”

Talent said the U.S. has the highest quality food in the world, and that Missourians should have full confidence in the chicken and turkey they buy in the state’s grocery stores.

Avian flu is a contagious disease of animals caused by viruses that typically infect only birds. Weak strains of the disease are occasionally found in birds in the U.S., but is rarely fatal. Asia has been fighting a particularly powerful strain, known as H5N1, that can be transmitted to humans. That strain of the virus has not shown up in the United States.

More than 100 agricultural leaders and members of the public attended Thursday’s roundtable, including Fred Ferrell, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, and Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo. Johanns and Talent also made appearances in Kansas City and St. Louis to discuss Avian flu with local health and agriculture officials.

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