The four leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees — Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow  (D-MI) and Representatives K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) and Collin Peterson (D-MN)– sent a letter on Wednesday to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) be allowed to use additional funds to combat highly pathogenic avian influenza.This funding issue was also one of the top issues discussed by representatives from NCC member companies during their visits with Senate and House Members on Wednesday as part of NCC’s  annual “Day in Washington” effort.  NCC members pointed out the need for increased funding to battle the high-pathogenic avian influenza H5N2 that has significantly impacted the U.S. poultry industries over the last several months. NCC members stressed in their Capitol Hill meetings that additional funding is needed for indemnification, education, and research regarding the current and possible future avian influenza outbreaks

“USDA is expected to request that additional funds be issued in the coming  weeks to combat the virus as it continues to spread,” said the four lawmakers in their letter to OMB.  “We need to ensure the indemnification process and cleanup of infected farms occurs immediately to avoid additional disruptions in rural America.”

USDA has used existing funds to compensate farmers for depopulated poultry and to aid in the depopulation and disinfection efforts necessary to contain the virus. The additional funds requested would be released through the Secretary of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation transfer authority.

The H5N2 virus has affected over 100 farms to date and has resulted in the death or depopulation of approximately 15.4 million turkeys and laying hens. Minnesota, the number one turkey state, accounts for 60 percent of the outbreaks thus far.

Avian influenza detections are expected to decrease this summer with increasing temperatures.  However, USDA officials have said that it is probable that the avian influenza virus, carried by migrating birds, will survive the summer and that they expect “higher numbers of infected birds next fall to move these virus south again,” USDA said.

The National Chicken Council, in partnership with additional agricultural organizations, has also submitted a letter to Congress requesting the full funding of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to further enhance early disease warning and surveillance efforts.