USDA announces funding for H5N1-affected herds

Pruitt details programs in NMPF webinar

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In the wake of the evolving animal health situation created by highly pathogenic avian influenza in dairy cattle, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that significant investments will be made to support affected dairy farms and reduce the impact and spread of the virus to mitigate risk and protect public health.

The USDA announced May 10 that $98 million in existing funds is being made available to its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to support these initiatives. USDA can make additional funds available with Congressional notification.

Dr. Michael Pruitt, the APHIS deputy national incident commander and director of district 4 veterinary services, appeared on a webinar hosted by the National Milk Producers Federation May 16. The webinar discussed how affected dairy farmers can use these funds to work through and recover from the effects of the HPAI H5N1 virus.

“We are in what I would call uncharted waters,” Pruitt said. “The rollouts have been fast and furious. As we go along, there might be some changes that come about to make it more simple to take advantage of this. These financial opportunities will potentially help you and will potentially help us as we try to get more knowledge of the disease prevalence in our herds in the United States.”

Pruitt defined an affected farm as any facility that has received a non-negative polymerase chain reaction sample from milk or via pathology from a necropsy situation.

As of May 17, the virus has been confirmed on 51 dairy farms in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas.

“The focus right now is on those affected herds,” Pruitt said. “I suspect we will pick up more herds as pre-movement testing continues. We’re asking producers that are affected by the disease get confirmation at either a National Animal Health Laboratory Network or National Veterinary Services Laboratories. We’re preparing to roll this out as quickly as we can.”

Affected farms are eligible to submit receipts for the program, commencing with the date of the USDA confirmation of the presence of the virus on their farms. They can request program funding for 120 days following that confirmation.

“We’re working right now on building the team that we’ll need to support this,” Pruitt said. “Our administrative services unit feels very comfortable that we have assets in place right now with the skill sets that are necessary to immediately employ this activity. We’re ready to go as soon as this thing reaches its official roll-out.”

Pruitt said the Farm Service Agency will provide assistance for H5N1-related milk loss and is developing rules for that arm of the program.

Detailing the programs available, Pruitt stressed the importance of using personal protective equipment on affected farms.

“We’re looking to support you by trying to slow down any potential for accidental exposure on those dairies where the virus could potentially move to humans,” Pruitt said. “Producers who elect this option can receive a flat rate per employee up to $2,000 per month to provide PPE. In addition, if they have their own uniform services, we will help support increased laundering services. The idea is to provide PPE, whether disposable or reusable.”

The funding for increased PPE is limited to four months following the initial confirmation on each farm.

“In addition to that, people can take advantage of very specific information that might not have been on their radar before regarding biosecurity auditing, planning and implementation,” Pruitt said.

Producers can receive a one-time offer of $1,500 per affected premise to work with either private entities or state personnel to develop and implement enhanced biosecurity measures. Producers will need to keep all receipts and invoices for the process to be reimbursed.

With increasing biosecurity measures, up to $100 will be paid to farms that wish to install an in-line sampler for their milk systems.

Up to $2,000 over four months will be available to affected dairy farmers to put toward the purchase of a pasteurization unit or other expenses related to heating and disposing of affected milk in a biosecure fashion.

“There has been some concern about just dumping the milk, but right now, the only safe option we’ve got is to dispose of milk after it’s been heated,” Pruitt said. “At this time, heat treating milk is the only confirmed method for biosecure disposal of affected milk.”

Pruitt said while some farms treat waste milk fed to calves using ultraviolet light rather than pasteurization, the effectiveness of UV light in terms of killing the H5N1 virus is not confirmed.

“We can reimburse producers that have experienced cattle that are going to the sick pen and have to be treated medically to get those animals through that sick period to get them through resolution,” Pruitt said. “We can support that up to $10,000 total per affected premise.”

The reimbursement can also be applied to veterinary fees for collecting samples for testing. The USDA will also cover the shipping costs of sending samples to a NAHNL lab for testing for two shipments per month, not to exceed $50 per shipment for each affected premise.

A team through the Ruminant Heath Commodities Unit is working on building a related program that offers an opportunity to test bulk tank milk, probably weekly, Pruitt said. The number of samples would be based on the number of cows and the number of tanks.

“It will be a really good support mechanism for those people who want to go past being required to do pre-movement testing every time they have a load that needs to go,” Pruitt said. “This would offer us a chance over a period of three weeks to help establish herd status. That would give us a chance to take a look at herd prevalence and at the same time give you a chance to feel more comfortable that your cattle are not experiencing disease. We could help you establish and maintain that status.”

To enroll in the programs, affected dairy farmers must contact the USDA’s designated area veterinarian in charge of their state. That information can be found via the APHIS website. 

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