USDA: Bird flu vaccine works on chickens; testing on turkeys

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USDA: Bird flu vaccine works on chickens; testing on turkeys
Thomas 'Tom' Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), speaks during an interview in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 8, 2015. Government spending to fight the worst U.S. bird flu outbreak and compensate farmers for their losses will exceed the $410 million so far budgeted and may top a half-billion dollars, Vilsack said. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Indian workers spread disinfectant after an operation to cull chickens at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian workers spread disinfectant after an operation to cull chickens at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian health workers dump bags of dead chickens after a culling operation at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian health workers carry dead chickens in bags after a culling operation at Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Thoroor village in Ranga Reddy district, some 55 kilometers from Hyderabad on April 15, 2015. Five chicks were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza on regular testing of samples belonging to the farm of a poultry farmer Srinivas Reddy. The authorities ordered the culling of 150,000 birds in a kilometre radius on poultry farms, although no cases of human infections were identified so far, according to Ranga Reddy district officials. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Dutch State Secretary Henk Bleker (C) puts on a mask during a visit to a turkey farm affected by a bout of the bird flu virus in Kelpen-Oler on March 19, 2012. All 42,700 turkeys at the farm will be slaughtered. AFP PHOTO / ANP MARCEL VAN HOORN netherlands out (Photo credit should read MARCEL VAN HOORN/AFP/Getty Images)
EAGLE GROVE, IA - MAY 17: A gate blocks the entrance of a farm operated by Daybreak Foods which has been designated 'bio security area' on May 17, 2015 near Eagle Grove, Iowa. Daybreak Foods is one of several large-scale commercial poultry facilities is Iowa reported to have been hit with a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza which has forced poultry producers to kill off millions of birds in an attempt to stifle the spread of the illness. A road leading up to the front of the farm has been closed to outside traffic with a checkpoint established. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Scientists have developed a vaccine strain that has tested 100 percent effective in protecting chickens from bird flu and testing is underway to see if it also protects turkeys, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee at a hearing on Wednesday.

If it does, the agency plans to quickly license it for widespread production and is seeking funding from the Office of Management and Budget to stockpile it nationally.

"Hopefully we'll be able to get a lot of folks working collaboratively together and we stockpile enough so that if this does hit and hits us hard we're in a position to respond quickly," Vilsack said.

Developing a vaccine targeted to the H5N2 virus that has killed 48 million birds since early March in 15 states, including hardest-hit Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, is one aspect of planning for a potential recurrence of the bird flu, Vilsack said.

Scientists believe the virus was spread through the droppings of wild birds migrating north to nesting grounds. They're concerned it could return this fall when birds fly south for the winter or again next spring.

While this year Midwest turkey and egg farms were hit hardest, the industry that raises chickens for meat in the southern and eastern states including Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia is worried it could spread there.

Still not all poultry producers are on the same page when it comes to using vaccine to fight an outbreak.

Turkey producers tend to favor vaccination to protect flocks because turkey immune systems appear more vulnerable to viruses. Some egg producers and farmers who raise broilers — chickens produced for meat — often resist vaccination programs because of the possible impact on export markets.

U.S. producers export nearly $6 billion worth of poultry and egg products yearly with about $5 billion of that chicken meat.

"There are many unanswered questions that must be addressed before any strong consideration is given to a vaccination program," said Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, which represents producers of 95 percent of the U.S. broilers sold. "Two concerns of several are the effectiveness of the vaccine and potential impacts on trade."

Meetings also have been held with importers of U.S. poultry products to try and convince them not to block all poultry imports if a vaccination program is enacted in response to another outbreak.

"That's still an open question and we've been working with a number of countries today to get them convinced to ban regionally as opposed to the entire country," Vilsack said.

Many countries have a strict policy of refusing to accept meat from nations using a vaccine because it can be difficult to discern through testing whether birds were infected with an active virus or were vaccinated, said James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

Even during the current outbreak which affected 15 states, about 10 trade partners banned poultry imports from the entire U.S., Sumner said.

Vilsack said it's uncertain when a vaccine would be ready for large-scale production. Even once stockpiled, a vaccination program would not begin until the USDA, consulting with affected states, decided it was necessary to control an outbreak


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