Minn. Rep. Erhardt apologizes for strange bird flu commentary on House floor

Minnesota Rep. Ron Erhardt (DFL-Edina) was criticized Tuesday for making some odd statements about the state's avian flu crisis, and he released an apologetic statement in response. However, this isn't the first time his commentary has been called into question.

"On Saturday, I had a nice turkey dinner, and almost immediately after, I started showing signs of flu," Rep. Erhardt told the House floor in a white lab coat, brandishing a jar that had "bird flu vaccine" written on it.

Rep. Jean Poppe (DFL-Austin) grew up on a turkey farm, and she stopped his rant, pointing out it appeared to be a joke. She maintains this isn't a situation that deserves humor, nor is it a food safety issue.

"This crisis is not a joke and not a political issue. Any attempt to turn it into either is disrespectful of farmers across Minnesota and unbecoming of our shared Minnesotan values," she said in a statement.

In his own statement, Rep. Erhardt apologized "for making light" of the issue.

"I rose to the floor today to talk about the potential public health issues related to the avian flu crisis. I have met with officials from the Minnesota Department of Health to ask questions and better understand this issue. I am confident in their work, and assessment that consuming turkey is safe for Minnesotans. I apologize for making light of this serious issue and I support immediate passage of legislation that will adequately fund a response to the avian flu crisis."

The latest numbers from the state department of public safety said 82 turkey and chicken farms in 21 counties in Minnesota have been hit by avian influenza, wiping out more than 5.48 million birds. The Minnesota Department of Health continues to say there's no risk to humans from avian flu, and turkey burgers were served on the Capitol lawn on Tuesday in support for the state's poultry industry. However, bird flu was recently blamed for a rash of layoffs at the Jennie-O plant in Faribault.

This is Rep. Erhardt's 11th, non-consecutive term. He was first elected in 1990.

At the end of March, Rep. Erhardt used an episode from "Friends" regarding a bill that aims to redefine sexual contact which hit home with a hardware store employee whose coffee was ejaculated into by a coworker at least twice. Rep. Erhardt used the episode to make his point that saliva should be removed from the bill and said lawmakers did not know the victim was watching from the gallery.

"In her particular instance, I can understand that. But we were casting a larger net wider than her situation, and the one item of the bodily fluids that I objected to, and others, was saliva," he said.

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