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US state of Iowa declares state of emergency over pathogenic H5 avian flu

Iowa, the top egg-producing state in the US, has declared a state of emergency due to a rapidly expanding outbreak of bird flu. Up to 21 million US chickens and turkeys could be killed because of the H5 virus.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad declared the state of emergency on Friday. It is the third US state to declare an emergency which has led - or will lead - to the extermination of up to 21 million chickens and turkeys across the United States.

If the chicken death-toll rises that high, it would be the biggest in a bird flu outbreak in US history, outstripping the 17 million birds killed in the 1983-84 outbreak in the US Northeast.

#link:http://www.aphis.usda.gov/stakeholders/downloads/2015/sa_hpai_minnesota.pdf:Minnesota# and Wisconsin declared states of emergency in April. A turkey farm in Wisconsin with more than a million birds tested positive on Monday.

"While the avian influenza outbreak does not pose a risk to humans, we are taking the matter very seriously and believe declaring a state of emergency is the best way to make all resources available," Branstad said in a statement.

The Iowa state of emergency comes into effect immediately and will be in force at least until the end of May.

Farm sites

As of Friday afternoon, Iowa officials said, 21 farm sites in 10 Iowa counties have either confirmed or presumed positive cases of the highly pathogenic H5 strain of bird flu.

The nine Iowa farms that tested positive in the 24 hours before the announcement in Iowa include a commercial egg operation with up to 5.5 million birds in Buena Vista County, and an egg-laying farm with one million birds in Madison County, according to Iowa's agriculture department.

The decision authorizes various state entities to have access to additional resources, supplies and equipment to track and contain the influenza outbreak. It also allows for the removal and disposal of infected animals on either public or private lands and lifts weight restrictions on trucks hauling culled flocks. At least one-quarter of the state's flock will have to be killed and disposed of, state officials said.

State and local law enforcement officers can set up checkpoints and road blocks anywhere in the state, including areas outside of quarantined farms, "in order to stop the spread of this contagious disease," according to the governor's statement.

Flu strains

Two bird flu strains have been found in the United States this year. The H5N2 strain has been reported in Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. It has also been identified on farms in Ontario, Canada.

The H5N8 strain has been identified in California and also in Idaho, according to the Agriculture Department.

Import bans

A number of countries have imposed total or partial bans on US poultry imports since the outbreak of the flu was discovered in December. According to Reuters, each of the top ten importers have introduced restrictions. The ten countries together bought 66 percent of the United States' total poultry exports, worth some $5.5 billion (4.9 billion euros), in 2014.

Total bans on US poultry imports have been imposed by China, South Korea and Angola. Partial bans have been imposed by Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong, Cuba, Taiwan and Guatemala. Russia banned all US poultry and products in August 2014 in response to US and EU sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.

According to the latest figures, the European Union imports 1.134 million tonnes of poultry broiler meat from the US.

US poultry processors slaughtered nearly 8.7 billion chickens in 2014 and about 237 million turkeys, according to Agriculture Department data.

jm/bk (Reuters, USDA)

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