Rising cases of a new strain of avian influenza in central Minnesota and surrounding states prompted the state to announce a month-long ban on poultry sales and exhibitions. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) released a statement on Thursday, announcing the 31-day statewide ban from Friday, April 1, through Sunday, May 1.
The Board of Animal Health's statement said:
"The ban includes all community sales, swaps, fairs, exhibitions, and other events where poultry and susceptible birds are brought together."
Why did the state declare a month-long poultry ban?
Reports stated that most HPAI cases were detected at commercial turkey locations.
The BAH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials assured citizens that despite being "high-risk" for the animals, humans were not at risk of contracting the virus. It also waved off food safety concerns regarding turkey consumption, deeming it safe.
The board found the first traces of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 in Minnesota turkey stocks in Meeker and Mower Counties on March 25.
The bird flu subsequently spread to five Minnesota counties, including Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, and Stearns, infecting over 376,000 birds as of Thursday. The virus was first reported in Indiana on February 8 before spreading to Minnesota and other surrounding states.
Before this instance, the top turkey-producing state hadn't reported any new cases of HPAI since 2015. Even back then, strict precautionary measures were initiated, with all bird shows at the 2015 Minnesota State Fair being canceled.
State veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson explained the reasoning behind the government's ban:
"Viruses like HPAI need hosts to continue to spread. It's our job to stop the spread of disease. Unfortunately, in this situation, we feel one of the best things we can do for the health of all birds in Minnesota is to take a pause on poultry events through May 1."
"We have been in contact with a lot of the folks involved with the poultry shows, and my understanding is there is support for this. So the information is out to the people that generally sell at these sales and shows, and this has been communicated out to the public too."
However, the BAH did clear direct sales of baby turkeys in stores or via mail from sellers authorized by the National Poultry Improvement Plan.
On Thursday, Governor Tim Walz also signed an executive order that waived off specific trucking regulations to help contain the spread of the virus and mitigate possible risks. The new order will be in effect until April 30.
Governor Walz also made a statement saying:
"As someone who grew up on a family farm, I know the work our farmers and producers do is tough under the very best conditions. We will continue to work with Minnesota's poultry industry and our federal partners to quickly and decisively respond to the HPAI cases in Minnesota and ensure the industry remains strong."
The release stated that the executive order waives strict enforcement of certain weight restriction regulations and hours of service requirements. These measures were taken to support producers' depopulation efforts and transportation of uninfected animals to processing facilities.