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Senate to evaluate federal bird flu response next month

WASHINGTON – Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts has granted a request from Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, asking for a hearing by the committee to assess the effectiveness of the federal response to the avian influenza that has laid waste to turkey and egg-laying operations in northern Iowa.

The hearing, titled “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: The Impact on the U.S. Poultry Sector and Protecting U.S. Poultry Flocks” will be held at 10 a.m. EST on July 7th, in room 328A of the Russell Senate Office Building.

According to Ernst, contract growers are dependent on turning birds or eggs out of their operations on a regular schedule. Growers in the process of disposing of dead birds, cleaning out, and waiting for the “all clear” from federal officials are worried about the future for themselves and their employees, according to Ernst.

“We do have a number of people that have laid off [employees],” Ernst explained, “and of course these producers, if they don’t generate that revenue, what does their future look like? Some of the producers have stated that it may even be two to three years before they’re back at full production levels, which is very concerning to me. This is going ot be a huge hit to our economy in Iowa.”

The number of new cases of bird flu is beginning to wind down, and using terminology befitting her status as a veteran of the Iraq War, Ernst is calling for an “after-action report” from federal officials.

“We would like to pull all of the agencies together that were involved,” said Ernst, “as well as those producers or consumers that maybe have been affected too, just so we can find what went really well during this process, and what we need to improve upon.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship says nearly 32 million birds have been euthanized at 77 sites in Iowa, due to the avian flu outbreak.

To hear more about the upcoming bird flu hearing on Capitol Hill, click the audio player above this story.

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