Lawmakers review plans for avian flu outbreak

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(Host) Lawmakers are closely reviewing the Douglas Administration’s plan to prepare for a possible avian flu outbreak.

Agency officials support the request as long as the review doesn’t delay the implementation of their proposal.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Vermont Health officials believe it’s only a matter of time before signs of avian flu show up in the state – they think there’s a good possibility of this happening before the end of the year.

Infected animals have been found in China, Africa and Europe – about 100 people have died from the virus – all of them have come into close contact with the animals.

Officials don’t think the virus in its current form poses a major human health risk but there are concerns that the virus will mutate into a pandemic threat.

The Agency of Agriculture plan calls for the voluntary registration of all locations that house farm animals – from commercial operations that have 10,000 animals to backyard farms with 10.

The plan includes public hearings in every county in the state this summer to educate farmers about prevention steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of a flu outbreak.

The Agency hopes to have final approval for their rules in the fall. Six months after final approval, the registration of commercial operations will be mandatory – smaller farms would have a year to comply with the mandatory registration rules.

Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says the plan doesn’t call for the identification of every animal – just the location of the farm.

(Kerr) “It’s very much like a fire company. You need to know where the house is. You don’t need to necessarily know how big the house is because the first truck that arrives makes the determination – hmm it’s a small house it’s a big house I do or don’t need back up. We need in a sense the first responder knowledge so that we can get quickly to the farms that may be in close proximity to an infected farm so we can limit the spread.”

(Kinzel) Critics of the plan are concerned that it’s the first step toward the mandatory identification of every farm animal in the state.

Senate Agriculture chairwoman Sara Kittell expects the Agency’s plan will get tweaked after the public hearings. She then wants to review the final proposal before it’s implemented.

(Kittell) “I think we’re going to achieve a little oversight with the Agency. They’re going to check in with us and give us an update of where we are worldwide – what’s going on, what’s going on locally. Is there any outbreaks? Do we need to go at this rapid pace? So I think it was a compromise and the compromise was to have some oversight. And then if we see anything, then we will be able to talk with the Agency about this and then we’ll be back in session in a couple of months after that.”

(Kinzel) It’s possible that this compromise plan will be included as part of the state budget for next year.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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