Lawmakers rush $1 million to governor in Minnesota bird flu fight

A ban on poultry sales and exhibitions along with waiving certain trucking restrictions are all efforts being used to stop a new bird flu strain from spreading. 

Minnesota lawmakers rushed $1 million in emergency funding to Gov. Tim Walz to help contain the avian flu outbreak that's spreading across the state.

State agriculture officials were growing worried that their emergency respond fund was running low at the same time lawmakers went out of town on spring break next week. The $1 million will get the state through the break, though lawmakers will likely need to approve more funding later this session, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said.

The money will help with the logistics of euthanizing affected flocks, along with quarantining and testing at nearby farms, Petersen said.

"It gives our staff room to breathe on this," Petersen said in a telephone interview from Willmar, where he was meeting with agriculture and food processing industry officials about the response. "We have to make sure we're controlling the spread, so we're testing a lot more."

So far, bird flu cases have been found in 24 flocks in 12 Minnesota counties affecting more than 1 million birds. Commercial operations and backyard flocks have seen cases. Migratory wild birds are carrying the virus into Minnesota, agriculture officials say.

The spread is tracking on par or slightly ahead of the 2015 outbreak that killed 9 million birds in Minnesota, Petersen said.

Lawmakers acted with urgency Thursday. Within an hour, the Senate passed the funding measure unanimously and the House approved it 129-1.

"While Minnesota farmers are doing everything they can to prevent the spread with their biosecurity plans and working closely with their veterinarians, this is what we can do on the floor today," said state Rep. John Burkel, R-Badger. Burkel is a fourth-generation turkey farmer.

Minnesota is the country's biggest turkey-producing state, with nearly 700 farms and 40 million birds.

The poultry outbreak has spread to 24 states affecting 22.9 million birds, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The avian flu poses little risk to humans or food safety, agency officials have said.